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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

That Hamilton woman

Jane Austen was only seven when the American War of Independence ended, and as far as I know she is not on record either pro or con – though, as a loyal daughter of Great Britain, she would most likely not have chosen to set off celebratory July 4 fireworks today.

But the smashing success of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Pulitzer- and Tony-winning musical Hamilton got me wondering about whether Hamilton appears in Austen’s work. And wouldn’t you know it – he does! Or, at least, his surname does:

"[Anne Elliot] had heard. . . of there being an old school-fellow in Bath, who had the two strong claims on her attention of past kindness and present suffering. Miss Hamilton, now Mrs. Smith, had shewn her kindness in one of those periods of her life when it had been most valuable. Anne had gone unhappy to school, grieving for the loss of a mother whom she had dearly loved, feeling her separation from home, and suffering as a girl of fourteen, of strong sensibility and not high spirits, must suffer at such a time; and Miss Hamilton, three years older than herself, but still, from the want of near relations and a settled home, remaining another year at school, had been useful and good to her in a way which had considerably lessened her misery, and could never be remembered with indifference." (Persuasion, ch. 17)

I must concede that it’s unlikely Jane Austen had that Hamilton in mind when she chose the unlucky Mrs. Smith’s maiden name. (If anyone, Lord Nelson's scandalous mistress Emma Hamilton, surely -- though the cheerful but infirm Mrs. Smith is hardly a glamorous adultress.) Still, if anyone in need of a dissertation topic (“Jane Austen and the Founding Fathers: A Study of Influence”?) wants to hunt for Jeffersons, Madisons or Burrs, be my guest. There's definitely an Adams in the Juvenilia. . .


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