July 18, 1817. Just a short commemoration on this sad day…
No one said it better than her sister Cassandra who wrote
I have lost a treasure, such a Sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed,- She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow, I had not a thought concealed from her, & it is as if I had lost a part of myself…”
(Letters, ed. by Deidre Le Faye [3rd ed, 1997], From Cassandra to Fanny Knight, 20 July 1817, p. 343; full text of this letter is at the Republic of Pemberley)
There has been much written on Austen’s lingering illness and death; see the article by Sir Zachary Cope published in the British Medical Journal of July 18, 1964, in which he first proposes that Austen suffered from Addison’s disease. And see also Claire Tomalin’s biography Jane Austen: A life, “Appendix I, “A Note on Jane Austen’s Last Illness” where she suggests that Austen’s symptoms align more with a lymphoma such as Hodgkin’s disease.
Austen is buried in Winchester Cathedral, where no mention is made of her writing life on her grave:
It was not until after 1870 that a brass memorial tablet was placed by her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh on the north wall of the nave, near her grave: it tells the visitor that
[in part] Known to many by her writings, endeared to her
family by the varied charms of her characters
and ennobled by her Christian faith and piety
was born at Steventon in the County of Hants.
December 16 1775
and buried in the Cathedral
July 18 1817.
“She openeth her mouth with wisdom
and in her tongue is the law of kindness.”
David Gilson writes in his article “Obituaries” that there are eleven known published newspaper and periodical obituary notices of Jane Austen: here are a few of them:
- Hampshire Chronicle and Courier(vol. 44, no. 2254, July 21, 1817, p.4): “Winchester, Saturday, July 19th: Died yesterday, in College-street, Miss Jane Austen, youngest daughter of the late Rev. George Austen formerly Rector of Steventon, in this county.”
- Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle(vol. 18, no. 928, p. 4)…”On Friday last died, Miss Austen, late of Chawton, in this County.”
- Courier(July 22, 1817, no. 7744, p. 4), makes the first published admission of Jane Austen’s authorship of the four novels then published: “On the 18th inst. at Winchester, Miss Jane Austen, youngest daughter of the late Rev. George Austen, Rector of Steventon, in Hampshire, and the Authoress of Emma, Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility. Her manners were most gentle; her affections ardent; her candor was not to be surpassed, and she lived and died as became a humble Christian.” [A manuscript copy of this notice in Cassandra Austen’s hand exists, as described by B.C. Southam]
- The Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle published a second notice in its next issue (July 28, 1817, p. 4) to include Austen’s writings.
There are seven other notices extant, stating the same as the above in varying degrees. The last notice to appear, in the New Monthly Magazine(vol. 8, no. 44, September 1, 1817, p. 173) wrongly gives her father’s name as “Jas” (for James), but describes her as “the ingenious authoress” of the four novels…
[from Gilson’s article “Obituaries”, THE JANE AUSTEN COMPANION [Macmillan 1986], p. 320-1]
Links to other articles and sources:
- Ms. Place’s Jane Austen’s World Blog: Jane Austen’s Final Hours; and On the Anniversary of Jane Austen’s Death; and added just today, Jane Austen’s Last Days to include a selection of letters
- Laurel Ann at Austenprose, appropriately quotes Wordsworth on this sad day…
- JASA article on Austen and Winchester Cathedral
- Winchester Cathedral and its literary connections
- Funerary Practices in the Victorian era
- For a quiz to commemorate Austen’s death and a chance to win Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, see the Becoming Jane Fansite