“When I am gone…,” Jill Pitkeathley’s Cassandra Austen muses on the letters written to her by her sister Jane. “When I am gone, perhaps before, they will want them, they will pour over them, examine them in detail and discuss them without limit.” Who would Cassandra’s they have been? She may immediately have thought of family, but how apt that they can be broadened to include, yes, this very reader. For ‘pour over’ and ‘examine’ is exactly what Austen-lovers do with her extant letters. James Edward Austen-Leigh utilized letters in his early biography; Lord Brabourne published (though not entirely verbatim) the letters in his possession; the son and grandson of Austen-Leigh included them in their family biography; Deirdre Le Faye brought out editions of both that biography and the letters themselves. Romanticists invent romances; writers cite Austen’s few references regarding writing and publishing; historians pluck from them pictures of England and London during the reign of George III and the Prince Regent. We all mine Austen’s letters for what they can tell us about what we most want to know, be it her life, her art, her world.
It was with great expectation that I awaited the arrival of a reviewer’s copy of Jill Pitkeathley’s CASSANDRA & JANE: A Jane Austen Novel (Harper-Collins, 2008; published in the UK by Copperfield Books in 2004). As Deb can attest, I have a great regard for Jane’s sister Cassandra – a woman literally kept in the shadows by time and her sister’s posthumous fame. It was with delight that I handled and read a couple letters penned by Cassandra – then an aging aunt – sent to James-Edward Austen and kept within the Austen-Leigh archive at the Hampshire Record Office.
The publishers have promised a sample chapter; but I’ve yet to see anything up on their website. A link will be posted when one is received, since we all love sample chapters!
I’m in the midst of writing two reviews for JASNA News (on Carrie Bebris’ newest Mr. & Mrs. Darcy mystery, The Matters at Mansfield and Jane Odiwe’s Lydia Bennet’s Story, which now comes in a US edition – both due in stores soon), have been reading the first novels in ELIZABETH PETERS’ Amelia Peabody series (am on book two, having bought a used boxed set of the first four novels), and recently received from a friend the first of the six Lymond Chronicles, The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett (originally published in 1961), which she heartily recommends. But Cassandra & Jane heads to the top of the list now that it’s finally here – so I hope to post a review soon.