Collecting Jane Austen: The Letters

Jane Austen to Cassandra, from Sloan St London, 25 April 1811 – British Library

Jane Austen’s Letters are an absolute must-have in your collection. There is nothing like reading these late at night, Jane Austen hovering over your shoulder. Considered rather mundane by the scholarly world when they first appeared – filled as they are with local gossip, fashion and food news, the periodic snide comment about friends and neighbors, and very little about her reading and writing – they have in succeeding years been picked over, and picked over again, to find the minutest insight into Austen and her world.

I find them a pure delight – seeing Austen as she was, mostly in missives to her sister, but also to her brothers, her friends, and publishers – it is like being inside her head at any given moment as she shares her thoughts, observations, and very caustic wit about the goings-on around her – a participant, but always the objective, sometimes judgmental, observer…

One-hundred and sixty letters remain from what has been surmised to have been thousands Austen likely wrote. Cassandra’s “great conflagration” before her own death in 1845 saw the destruction of who knows what else Austen had to say about her own life  – the gaps in dates give the reader such a sense of loss – what happened in those intervening days and years?? – and thus the fabric of novels is made. Of these 160 extant letters, most are scattered around various institutions or remain in private hands – location of each is noted in Le Faye’s exhaustive work.

This example of just her signature sold for over $16,000 in 2017!

So which of the published Letters to have??

Well, a true collector should have them all – you can find a good list in Gilson at G, a mere 8 pages (1982 ed.) with an additional three pages in the revised edition of 1997. While having them all would be a collector’s dream, you at least must have the 4th ed. by Le Faye if you are to understand anything at all about Jane Austen. But here is my list of the basic should-haves:

1. 1817: Henry Austen’s “Biographical Notice” postscript dated 20 December 1817 – Henry included a few extracts from her letters in this notice that appeared in the first edition of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (London: John Murray, 1818).

2. 1870: James Edward Austen-Leigh, A Memoir of Jane Austen (London: Bentley, 1870) – includes extracts and some letters in their entirety.

Frontispiece to the Memoir – the prettified Jane

3. 1884: The Letters of Jane Austen, edited with an introduction and critical remarks by Edward, Lord Brabourne (London: Bentley, 1884). Edward Knatchbull-Hugessen, son of Austen’s niece Fanny Knight, published 96 of the letters left to him by his mother – mostly includes letters to Cassandra, but also to Fanny, Anna Lefroy, and the two letters written by Cassandra on Austen’s death.

You can read them all here: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Letters_of_Jane_Austen_(Brabourne)
or here: https://pemberley.com/janeinfo/brablets.html

For a fascinating history of an Austen family-owned and annotated copy of these Letters, you can read Edith Lank’s account of her copy here:

“Family and Scholarly Annotations in Lord Brabourne’s Letters: Adventures of an Amateur Academic,” by Edith Lank. Persuasions 30 (2008): 76-87 – citation only, full–text unavailable.

But Lank also made a list of all the annotations online in POL 29.1 (2008), which you can read here: http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol29no1/lank.html

4. 1906: Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers, by John Henry Hubback and Edith Charlotte Hubback (London: John Lane, 1906) – this biography of Francis and Charles Austen includes for the first time Jane’s letters to her sailor brothers.

5. 1913: Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters, A Family Record, by William Austen-Leigh and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh (London: Smith-Elder, 1913) – quoted from all the letters known at that time.

6. 1924: Five Letters from Jane Austen to her Niece Fanny Knight, printed in facsimile (Oxford: Clarendon, 1924) – the full text of the letters from Austen to her niece (they were incompletely printed in Brabourne’s collection.

7. 1925: The Letters of Jane Austen, selected with an introduction by R. Brimley Johnson (London: John Lane, 1925) – a selection of 44 letters from the Brabourne Letters, The Sailor Brothers, and the Austen-Leigh Life.

Chapman, Letters, 1932

8. 1932: Jane Austen’s Letters to Her Sister Cassandra, collected and edited by R. W. Chapman (Oxford: Clarendon, 1932) – the first definitive edition, printed from the actual manuscripts where possible with those letters not accessible taken from Brabourne. There was a 2nd ed. published in 1952 with the addition of 6 more letters but few other changes. Chapman also published a selection of the letters (about one-third) in 1955, and again in 1985 with an introduction by Marilyn Butler.

9. 1981: Five Letters from Jane Austen to Her Sister Cassandra, 1813, with an introduction by David Gilson (Brisbane: Lock’s Press, 1981) – a limited edition of 60 copies.

10. 1990: Jane Austen’s Manuscript Letters in Facsimile, edited by Jo Modert (Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1990 – a reproduction of all letters that could be located – the introduction is invaluable and seeing each letter in its original state is fascinating.

11. 1990: My Dear Cassandra…a collection of Jane Austen’s Letters selected and introduced by Penelope Hughes-Hallett (London: Collins and Brown, 1990) – letters selected from the Brabourne Letters, not complete, but it does include many fabulous contemporary illustrations.

12. 1992: “Seven letters from Austen to Francis and Charles” published as a keepsake for those at the JASNA AGM (Alto Loma: Bookhaven Press, 1992) – a miniature booklet limited to 300 copies, these were given to attendees of the 1992 AGM in Santa Monica, CA – the theme was “The Letters, Focusing on Travel and the Sea.”

13. 1995: Jane Austen’s Letters, New Edition, collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995) – a 3rd edition of the Chapman Letters but with Le Faye’s ceaseless and energetic scholarship into those not fully identified by Chapman as well as the addition of 12 more letters – Le Faye’s notes are mine of information on provenance, current location of each letter (if known), every detail on people and places and allusions are noted; includes biographical and topographical indexes. The lacking full subject indexes found in Chapman were added into the 4th edition (see below)…

There is also a fine publication of this 1995 edition by the Folio Society:

14. 2004: Selected Letters [of Jane Austen], selected with an introduction and notes by Vivien Jones (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004) – based on the 3rd ed. of the letters by Deirdre Le Faye from 1995. You need these paperback editions so you have something to write-in and underline (!).

14. 2011: Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th ed., collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011; paperback ed. 2014) – no new letters have been discovered since the 1995 ed, but much additional information has been added regarding Austen’s life and her endless references in the letters. Indexes and notes have been updated, as well as the addition of the all-important Subject Index.

There are other editions out there – I also have the small Oxford World Classics blue hardcover of Chapman Letters with the dust jacket, not often seen – if you should find this, buy it immediately…

[Please note: Our house is being renovated and all my books are packed up – so while some of these images are mine, I had to also mine the internet for others!]

Do you have a favorite edition of the Letters??

©2021 Jane Austen in Vermont

Hot off the Presses! ~ Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine No. 69

JARW69-cover
The May/June 2014 issue (No. 69) of Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine is published and is being mailed to subscribers this week.

In it you can read about:

•An exclusive interview with Deirdre Le Faye, doyenne of the Austen world, about her career as a Janeite and her new book

cover-lefaye

[Note: Le Faye’s new book, Jane Austen’s Country Life: Uncovering the Rural Backdrop to her Life, Her Letters and Her Novels, is due out June 1, 2014 from Frances Lincoln]

Belle, the new film about Lord Mansfield’s great-niece, is out soon

[Note: the film is released May 1, 2014; cover image is of Belle, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw; for more information and the trailer see http://www.foxsearchlight.com/Belle/ ]

•Could an eminent harpist have discovered Jane ‘s piano tuning key?

Godmersham 1779 - wikipedia

Godmersham 1779 – wikipedia

•Glorious Godmersham: a visit to the home of Edward Austen Knight

•Adlestrop, the village that influenced both Jane and a poet

•How Georgian England was fascinated by spiritualism and the supernatural

*Plus News, Letters, Book Reviews and information from Jane Austen Societies in the US, UK and Australia

*************

To subscribe [and you should!] click here – and make sure that you are among the first to read all the news from Jane Austen’s Regency World.

 c2014, Jane Austen in Vermont

Jane Austen’s ‘own darling Child’

Gentle Readers: This year we have just entered upon will be a long and interesting 365 days of celebrating the 1813 publication of Pride and Prejudice ! There are festivals, conferences, blog postings, reading challenges, and already many newspaper and journal articles on this timeless work by Jane Austen.  I would like to start off my own celebration of this beloved classic with repeating a post I wrote two years ago, where I had pulled together all the references that Austen makes to this, her “own darling Child,” in her letters.  It makes fascinating reading to “hear” her…
pp-christies-12-7-12
The publishing history of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s most popular book, then and now, is an interesting study in the book trade of early 19th century England.  First completed in 1797 (and called First Impressions) and rejected by the publisher her father took the manuscript to, Austen reworked her draft over time and submitted it to Thomas Egerton, the publishing house of her Sense & Sensibility, in 1812 (it was published on January 28, 1813).   She sold the copyright outright for £110, and did not incur other expenses in its publication, as she did in the three other works published in her lifetime [see links below for more information.]  How we would love to know her thoughts on this road to publication! – how we would love to have her letters written while in the process of the writing to give us some idea of her imagination at work – where WAS the model for Pemberley?  was Mr. Darcy someone REAL?  was Elizabeth Bennet her alter ego? was MR COLLINS drawn from life? – or to have the letters to her brother Henry and his to Egerton – but alas! we have very little, just a few comments scattered among the surviving letters.

Jane Austen’s “Imaginary” Portrait ~ Coming to BBC Two

UPDATE!: you can follow the latest developments on this Austen Portrait at Paula Byrne’s twitter account: https://twitter.com/#!/austenportrait

***************************************

News Alert!

In March of this year, I wrote a post on the auction of an “imaginary” portrait of Jane Austen, one of the portraits that Deirdre Le Faye wrote about in her article for the Jane Austen Society Report 2007, pp. 42-52.  This portrait sold at the Bonham’s March 29, 2011 auction and the image copyright became the right of the new owner. 

Dr. Paula Byrne, author of a number of Austen scholarly articles, her book Jane Austen and the Theatre [fabulous read!], and her forthcoming biography of Austen [The Real Jane Austen], is  going to broadcast “Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait?”  on BBC Two on December 26 about the validity of this portrait, and if this illusive image might indeed be Jane Austen.  Here is the press release on the upcoming broadcast …  and an illustration of the portrait, with permission of Dr. Byrne.

[Image from JAS Report for 2007.  The copyright of the portrait now belongs to Paula Byrne.]

From the BBC:

BBC Two follows academic’s investigation into possible
unknown portrait of Jane Austen

This month, BBC Two follows a British academic as she unveils a portrait that may be one of the only remaining images of Jane Austen. In a one-off special, Martha Kearney follows the search to find out whether an unusual drawn portrait really does capture the face of the well-loved author.

Will the picture stand up to forensic analysis and scrutiny by art historians and Austen experts? And if it does, how might it change our perception of one of Britain’s most revered writers? Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait? (9pm, Mon 26 Dec, BBC Two) follows the investigation behind one of the literary world’s most exciting art works.

Janice Hadlow, Controller, BBC Two:  “Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait? will sit at the heart of our Christmas schedule and will be a fascinating chance for the BBC Two audience to delve deeper into the life of one of Britain’s best-loved authors.”

Jane Austen is one of the most celebrated writers of all time but with only a rough sketch by her sister we have just an inkling of what she may have looked like. Austen academic and biographer Dr Paula Byrne thinks that this may be about to change. She believes that she’s discovered a portrait of the author that has been lost for nearly two centuries and may offer fascinating new insight into how Jane once lived and portrayed herself to the world.

Paula Byrne: “If this really is an authentic portrait of Jane Austen, it has the potential to change our image of her for ever — instead of the prim spinster of Cassandra’s unfinished sketch, here is a professional writer at the height of her powers.”

Martha follows Paula’s search to gather as much evidence as possible in her quest to prove that she really may hold one of the rarest literary portraits of all time. From eighteenth century costume experts to the editor of Jane Austen’s letters, Paula must interrogate as many experts as possible to build a case for why this really might be Jane. After months of research, she presents the portrait to three of the world’s most prominent Austen experts. Will she be able to convince them that it really is as authentic as it seems?

Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait? airs at 9pm, Monday 26th December, BBC Two and is one of two films commissioned by the BBC Arts department to celebrate the life and work of one of our greatest authors this Christmas.

The programme was commissioned by Janice Hadlow (Controller, BBC Two) and Mark Bell (Commissioning Editor for Arts) and will be executive produced by Liz Hartford for Seneca Productions and Adam Barker for BBC Knowledge. The director is Neil Crombie.

from: Victoria Asare-Archer, Publicist, BBC
____________________________________________

You can read more about it at Dr. Byrne’s website here
But alas! we on this side of the pond, who must live without the BBC Two, will just have to wait …

Further Reading:

Copyright @2011 Deb Barnum, at Jane Austen in Vermont 

On the Block! ~ An Imaginary Jane Austen

Up for auction on March 29, 2011 – Papers and Portraits, Bonham’s London, an imaginary portrait of Jane Austen.  

From the catalogue:

Lot No: 6 – A Portrait of Jane Austen BY AN UNKNOWN ARTIST, half-length, wash and pencil, highlighted with chalk, on vellum, inscribed on the verso in a small contemporary hand ‘Miss Jane Austin’ (sic) and with the location or inventory number ‘A76’, contemporary gilt frame with attached identification label ‘Jane Austen B. 1775 – D. 1817’, chalk numbers on verso of frame ‘166 8234’ and inscribed on the old backing board in an early nineteenth-century hand ‘Price £3-3s 0d Frame £0 5s 0d.’ and with chalk mark ‘A68’, size of image 5¾ x c. 4½ inches (14. 5 x c. 12 cm), overall size 11¾ x 10½ inches (30 x 27 cm), no date [but ?1818]

Estimate: £1,000 – 2,000, € 1,200 – 2,400

Footnote: THIS IS THE EARLIEST OF THE SO-CALLED ‘IMAGINARY’ PORTRAITS OF JANE AUSTEN, thus listed by Deirdre Le Faye in her article ‘Imaginary Portraits of Jane Austen’ in Jane Austen Society Report, 2007, pp. 42-52 (a copy of which is included with the lot).

Le Faye suggests that the portrait ‘could be as early as 1818’, one year after Austen’s death. Le Faye comments: ‘This might well be a creation by the Revd William Jones (1777-1821), curate and vicar of Broxbourne and Hoddesdon – or if not him, someone with very similar interests. On 17th April 1818 Mr Jones confided to his diary: “Whenever I am much ‘taken with’ an author, I generally draw his or her likeness in my own fancy…” The artist, whoever he/she may have been, seems to have read Henry’s “Biographical Notice [of the Author”, by Jane Austen’s brother Henry in the four-volumes of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in 1817] and invented the portrait accordingly, depicting a thin, large-nosed, well-dressed middle-aged lady set against a background of a swagged curtain, classical columns, and cathedral tower. She is sitting at a small round table, quill and notebook in hand and with eyes upraised apparently seeking literary inspiration from the heavens. The elements of the portrait are symbolic – her closely-fitting long-sleeved dress suggests sober respectability; and her various rings and necklaces demonstrate likewise that she was well off, not a poor hack writer starving in a garret. The sleeping cat on the table beside her implies spinsterhood – a pet instead of a child – and the cathedral tower in the background, vaguely reminiscent of Canterbury, harks back to Henry’s statement in his last paragraph that “She was thoroughly religious and devout.”‘

Jane Austen was noted for wearing caps, largely out of fashion by the time of this portrait, as her niece Caroline Austen noted: ‘She always wore a cap – Such was the custom with ladies who were not quite young…I never saw her without one…either morning or evening’ (G.H. Tucker, Jane Austen the Woman, 1994, p. 10). Jane Austen herself commented that wearing a cap ‘saves me a world of torment as to hair-dressing’.

There is no professional portrait of Jane Austen and the only authentic representation of her is a watercolour sketch drawn by her sister Cassandra, probably about 1810, which is now in the National Portrait Gallery; it was described by R.W. Chapman as a ‘disappointing scratch’ (Jane Austen: Facts and Problems, 1946, p. 212).

In this cataloguer’s view the present portrait goes beyond Henry Austen’s description of his sister in catching Austen family characteristics, including the somewhat elongated large nose and somewhat pointed chin. The sitter is clearly above middle height (Henry said ‘It could not have been increased without exceeding the middle height’) and thin, as was Jane Austen. Despite what is stated above by Deirdre Le Faye, Henry Austen did not mention in his account that his sister was thin and large-nosed. Mrs Beckford, a friend of Jane’s, however, described her in a letter as ‘a tall thin spare person…the face by no means so broad & plump as represented…’ (Tucker, op. cit., pp. 11-12).

[An image of the Portrait can be found in the JAS Report 2007, opp. p 64, as well as the Bonham’s catalogue linked above; the text is from Bonhams catalogue] 

With thanks to Marsha and Kerri for the information.

Copyright @2011, by Deb Barnum at Jane Austen in Vermont

Jane Austen on her ‘Sense & Sensibility’

Sense and Sensibility was first published in October 1811, hence all manner of this 200 year anniversary celebration will be literally taking over the world, or at least the blog-sphere world, for this entire year! [See the JASNA site  for information on the next AGM in October in Fort Worth]

There are already a number of blog events in place [I will be posting on these shortly], but I hope this year at Jane Austen in Vermont to do a number of posts on S&S, starting with its very interesting publishing history. So today, Part I – a compilation of what Jane Austen wrote in her letters about her first published work – there is not as much as on Pride & Prejudice or Mansfield Park and Emma, but she did make a number of comments that are worth noting. The upcoming Part II will outline the details of its publication and how it was received by her contemporaries. [You can also re-visit my previous posts on “Travel in S&S” – Part I, Part II, and Part III, and more to come regarding the types of carriages in use during Austen’s time.]

Note that all references in the letters are to: Deirdre Le Faye, ed. Jane Austen’s Letters. 3rd Edition. NY: Oxford, 1997, c1995.


Jane Austen on Sense & Sensibility
:

Ltr. 71. 25 April 1811, to Cassandra, from Sloane St, London

No indeed, I am never too busy to think of S&S. I can no more forget it, than a mother can forget her suckling child; & I am much obliged to you for your enquiries. I have had two sheets to correct, but the last only brings us to W.s [Willoughby] first appearance. Mrs. K [Mrs. Knight, Edward’s adoptive aunt] regrets in the most flattering manner that she must wait till May, but I have scarcely a hope of its being out in June. – Henry does not neglect it; he has hurried the Printer, & says he will see him again today. – It will not stand still during his absence, it will be sent to Eliza. – The Incomes remain as they were, but I will get them altered if I can. – I am very much gratified by Mrs. K.s interest in it; & whatever may be the event of it as to my credit with her, sincerely wish her curiosity could be satisfied sooner than is now probable. I think she will like my Elinor, but cannot build on anything else.

[Note: S&S was actually not published until 23 October 1811]


Ltr. 79. 29 Jan 1813
, to Cassandra, from Chawton

[Talking about P&P after its publication] – I have lopt & cropt so successfully however that I imagine it must be rather shorter than S&S altogether. – Now I will try to write of something else…


Ltr. 86. 3-6 July 1813
, to Francis Austen, from Chawton

You will be glad to hear that every Copy of S&S is sold & that is has brought me £140 – besides the Copyright, if that should ever be of any value.* – I have now therefore written myself into £250. – which only makes me long for more. – I have something in hand – which I hope on the credit of P&P will sell well, tho’ not half so entertaining. [i.e. Mansfield Park]

*My note: this is the world’s most perfect example of understatement!


Ltr. 87. 15-16 Sept 1813
, to Cassandra, from Henrietta St, London

Nothing has been done as to S&S. The Books came to hand too late for him to have time for it, before he went. [i.e send the books to Warren Hastings]


Ltr. 90. 25 Sept 1813, to Francis Austen, from Godmersham Park

[On the secret of her authorship]

  I was previously aware of what I should be laying myself open to – but the truth is that the Secret has spread so far as to be scarcely the Shadow of a secret now – & that I believe whenever the 3rd appears, I shall not even attempt to tell Lies about it. – I shall rather try to make all the Money than all the Mystery I can of it. – People shall pay for their Knowledge if I can make them. – Henry heard P&P warmly praised in Scotland, by Lady Robt Kerr & another Lady; – and what does he do in the warmth of his Brotherly vanity & Love, but immediately tell them who wrote it! – A Thing once set going in that way – one knows how it spreads! – and he, dear Creature, has set it going so much more than once. I know if is all done from affection & partiality – but at the same time, let me here again express to you & Mary my sense of the superior kindness which you have shewn on the occasion, in doing what I wished. – I am trying to harden myself. – After all, what a trifle it is in all its Bearings, to the really important points of one’s existence even in this World!

[postscript] There is to be a 2d Edition of S&S. Egerton advises it.

[Note: the 2nd edition was published 29 October1813]

Henry Austen

Ltr. 91. 11-12 Oct 1813, to Cassandra, from Godmerhsam Park

I dined upon Goose yesterday – which I hope will secure a good Sale of my 2d Edition.

[Note: Le Faye cites a poem from 1708: Old Michaelmas Day was October 11]

“That who eats Goose on Michael’s Day
 Shan’t money lack, his Debts to pay.”


Ltr. 95. 3 Nov 1813
, to Cassandra in London from Godmersham Park.

Your tidings of S&S give me pleasure. I have never seen it advertised. …

…I suppose in the meantime I shall owe dear Henry a great deal of Money for Printing, etc. – I hope Mrs. Fletcher will indulge herself with S&S.

[Note: Mrs. Fletcher was the wife of William Fletcher, of Trinity College Dublin – Austen notes that” Mrs. Fletcher, the wife of a Judge, an old Lady & very good & very clever, who is all curiosity to know about me…”. The 2nd edition of S&S, advertized on 29 October 1813,  was published at the author’s expense, thus Henry likely paid for it]


Ltr. 96. 6-7 Nov 1813
, to Cassandra in London, from Godmersham Park

Since I wrote last, my 2d Edit. has stared me in the face. – Mary tells me that Eliza [Mrs. Fowle] means to buy it. I wish she may. It can hardly depend upon any more Fyfield Estates [sale of Fowle property] – I cannot help hoping that many will feel themselves obliged to buy it. I shall not mind imagining it a disagreeable Duty to them, so as they do it. Mary heard before she left home, that it was very much admired at Cheltenham, & that it was given to Miss Hamilton [the writer Elizabeth Hamilton]. It is pleasant to have such a respectable Writer named. I cannot tire you I am sure on this subject, or I would apologise.

Elizabeth Hamilton - Wikipedia

Ltr. 100 21 Mar 1814, to Francis Austen, from London

Perhaps before the end of April, Mansfield Park by the author of S&S – P&P may be in the world. Keep the name to yourself. I should not like to have it known beforehand. [i.e. about MP]

Ltr. 121. 17-18 Oct 1815, to Cassandra, from Hans Place in London

Mr. Murray’s Letter is come; he is a Rogue of course, but a civil one. He offers £450 – but wants to have the Copyright of MP & S&S included. It will end in my publishing for myself I dare say. – He sends more praise however than I expected. It is an amusing Letter. You shall see it.

John Murray II

Ltr. 122(A)(D). 20-21 Oct 1815, draft of letter from Henry Austen to John Murray, in London

On the subject of the expence & profit of publishing, you must be better informed than I am; – but Documents in my possession appear to prove that the Sum offered by you for the Copyright of Sense & Sensibility, Mansfield Park & Emma, is not equal to the Money which my Sister has actually cleared by one very moderate Edition of Mansfield Park – (You Yourself expressed astonishment that so small an Edit. of such a work should have been sent into the World) & a still smaller one of Sense & Sensibility.- …

[Note: the 1st edition of S&S was 750 or 1000 copies; MP was probably 1,250, and Emma was 2,000 copies.]

Ltr. 154. 13 Mar 1817, to Caroline Austen, from Chawton

I have just recd nearly twenty pounds myself on the 2d Edit: of S&S* – which gives me this fine flow of Literary Ardour.

* Sense and Sensibility [footnoted by Austen in pencil]

*********************

Isn’t it such a delight to hear Austen’s very own words on her writing! Stay tuned for Part II on how it all came to be…

Illustration: John Murray II from Polylooks.com

Copyright@Deb Barnum, Jane Austen in Vermont, 2011.

Jane Austen’s ‘Own Darling Child’

Laurel Ann at her Austenprose blog is currently posting a month-long group read through Pride & Prejudice – do visit and join in the discussion! – she is as always an insightful reader and discussion leader, and what better way to spend the first month of summer musing on P&P and the finer points of Austen’s magic!
 
The publishing history of P&P, Austen’s most popular book, then and now, is an interesting study in the book trade of early 19th century England.  First completed in 1797 [and called First Impressions] and rejected by the publisher her father took the manuscript to, Austen reworked P&P and submitted it to Thomas Egerton, the publishing house of her Sense & Sensibility, in 1812 [published January 28, 1813].   She sold the copyright outright for £110, and did not incur other expenses in its publication, as in the three other works published in her lifetime [see links below for more information.]  How we would love to know her thoughts on this road to publication! – how we would love to have her letters written while in the process of the writing to give us some idea of her imagination at work [where WAS the model for Pemberley?  was Mr. Darcy someone REAL?  was Elizabeth Bennet her alter ego? was MR COLLINS drawn from life?], or to have the letters to her brother Henry and his to Egerton – but alas! we have nothing, just a few comments scattered among the surviving letters. 
 
Austen does not give us much in her letters as to her writing practices or narrative theory [and thus such a disappointment when they were first published, criticized for their “mundaneness,” their focus on domestic nothings and neighborhood gossip!] – but if you dig for diamonds you will find them, and these scattered mentions are certainly diamonds – it is the feeling of having her right over your shoulder when you read that she is “disgusted” with the way her mother is reading her book aloud, or that she REALLY likes this earning money for her labors, or being miffed [but also full of pride!] with Henry for telling her Secret to one and all – we see Jane Austen here in her own words – the funny, ironic, brilliant Jane Austen – never enough, but this is as good as it is going to get. 
 
So in this post I offer all the references she makes to Pride & Prejudice, her “own darling Child” – read them and enjoy!
[NOTE:  page references are to Deirdre Le Faye, ed., Jane Austen’s Letters, 3rd ed., Oxford, 1997;  all abbreviations and spelling errors are retained]
 
Letter 17. January 8-9, 1799 to Cassandra, from Steventon
 
I do wonder at your wanting to read first impressions again, so seldom as you have gone through it, & that so long ago. [page 35]
 
[Le Faye notes that this is the first surviving mention of Austen’s literary work, this prototype of P&P having been finished in August 1797; Note, p. 366]
 
Letter 21. June 11, 1799,  To Cassandra, from Bath
 
I would not let Martha read First Impressions again upon any account, & I 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 must enable her to do it.  [p.44]
 
Letter 77.  November 29-30, 1812, to Martha Lloyd from Chawton
 
P.& P. is sold. – Egerton gives £110 for it. – I would rather have had £150, but we could not both be pleased, & I am not at all surprised that he should not chuse to hazard so much. – It’s being sold will I hope be a great saving of Trouble to Henry, & therefore must be welcome to me. – The Money is to be paid at the end of the twelvemonth. [p. 197]
 
 
Letter 79.  January 29, 1813, to Cassandra from Chawton    
 
I want to tell you that I have got my own darling Child from London; – on Wednesday I received one Copy, sent down by Falknor, with three lines from Henry to say that he had given another to Charles & sent a 3d by the Coach to Godmersham; just the two Sets which I was least eager for the disposal of.  I wrote to him immediately to beg for my own two other Sets, unless he would take the trouble of forwarding them at once to Steventon & Portsmouth – not having any idea of his leaving Town before today; – by your account however he was gone before my Letter was written.  The only evil is the delay, nothing more can be done till his return.  Tell James & Mary so, with my Love. – For your sake I am as well pleased that it shd be so, as it might be unpleasant to you to be in the Neighborhood at the first burst of the business. – The Advertisement is in our paper to day [the Morning Chronicle of January 28, 1813]. – 18s – He shall ask £1-1- for my two next, & £1-8 – for my stupidest of all. I shall write to Frank, that he may not feel himself neglected.  Miss Benn dined with us on the very day of the Books coming, & in the eveng we set fairly at it & read half the 1st vol. to her – prefacing that having intelligence from Henry that such a work wd soon appear we had desired him to send it whenever it came out – & I beleive it passed with her unsuspected. – She was amused, poor soul! that she cd not help you know, with two such people to lead the way [JA and her mother]; but she really does seem to admire Elizabeth.  I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, & how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know. – There are a few Typical errors – & a “said he” or a “said she” would sometimes make the Dialogue more immediately clear – but “I do not write for such dull Elves” “As have not a great deal of Ingenuity themselves.”  [from Scott’s Marmion] – The 2d vol. is shorter than I cd wish – but the difference is not so much in reality as in look, there being a a larger proportion of Narrative in that part.  I have lopt & cropt so successfully however that I imagine it must be rather shorter than S. & S. altogether. – Now I will try to write of something else; – it shall be a complete change of subject – Ordination. [p. 201-2]
 
 
 
Letter 80.  February 4, 1813, to Cassandra from Chawton
 
Your letter was truely welcome & I am much obliged to you all for your praise; it came at a right time, for I had had some fits of disgust. – our 2d evening’s reading to Miss Benn had not pleased me so well, but I beleive something must be attributed to my Mother’s too rapid way of getting on – & tho’ she perfectly understands the Characters herself, she cannot speak as they ought. – upon the whole however I am quite vain enough & well satisfied enough. – The work is rather too light & bright & sparkling; – it wants shade; – it wants to be stretched out here & there with a long Chapter – of sense if it could be had, if not of solemn specious nonsense – about something unconnected with the story; an Essay on Writing, a critique on Walter Scott, or a history of Buonaparte – or anything that would form a contrast & bring the reader with increased delight to the playfulness & Epigrammatism of the general stile. –  I doubt your quite agreeing with me here – I know your starched Notions. – The caution observed at Steventon with regard to the possession of the book is an agreable surprise to me, & I heartily wish it may be the means of saving you from everything unpleasant; – but you must be prepared for the Neighbourhood being perhaps already informed of there being such a Work in the World, & in the Chawton World! Dummer will do that you know. – It was spoken of here one morng when Mrs. D. [Digweed] called with Miss Benn. – The greatest blunder in the Printing that I have met with is in Page 220 – Vol.3 where two speeches are made into one. – There might as well have been no suppers at Longbourn, but I suppose it was the remains of Mrs. Bennet’s old Meryton habits. [p. 203]

Mrs. George Austen

 
I had a letter from Henry yesterday, written on Sunday from Oxford; mine had been forwarded to him… he says that copies were sent to S. [Steventon] & P. [Portsmouth] at the same time as the others. [p. 204]
 
 
Letter 81.  February 9, 1813, to Cassandra from Chawton
 
I am exceedingly pleased that you say what you do, after having gone thro the whole work – & Fanny’s praise is very gratifying; – my hopes were tolerably strong for her, but nothing like a certainty.  Her liking Darcy & Elizabeth is enough.  She might hate all the others, if she would. I have her opinion under her own hand this morning, but your transcript of it which I read first, was not & is not the less acceptable. – To me, it is of course all praise – but the more exact truth which she sends you is good enough. [p. 205]
 
Yes, I beleive I shall tell Anna – & if you see her, & donot dislike the commission, you may tell her for me.  You know I meant to do it as handsomely as I could.  But she will probably not return in time [p. 205, referring to telling her niece Anna that she is the author of S&S and P&P, note p. 414]
 
…- there is still work for one evening more. [p. 206, to finish reading P&P aloud, note p. 414]
 
 
Letter 85.  May 24, 1813, to Cassandra from London
 
…Henry & I went to the Exhibition in Spring Gardens.  It is not thought a good collection, but I was very well pleased – particularly [pray tell Fanny] with a small portrait of Mrs. Bingley, excessively like her.  I was in hopes of seeing one of her Sister, but there was no Mrs. Darcy; – perhaps however, I may find her in the Great Exhibition which we shall go to, if we have time; – I have no chance of her in the collection of Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Paintings which now is shewing in Pall Mall & which we are also to visit. – Mrs. Bingley is exactly herself, size, shaped face, features and sweetness; there never was a greater likeness.  She is dressed in a white gown, with green ornaments, which convinces me of what I have always supposed, that green was a favourite colour with her.  I dare say Mrs. D. will be in Yellow. [p. 212] 
 
 [Portrait of a Lady, by J.F.M. Huet-Villiers]
a.k.a. Mrs. Bingley
 
 
I am very much obliged to Fanny for her Letter; – it made me laugh heartily; but I cannot pretend to answer it.  Even had I more time, I should not feel at all sure of the sort of Letter that Miss D. would write… [p. 213, referring to a letter from Fanny written to and expecting a response from Georgiana Darcy – Note p. 417]
 
We have been to both the Exhibition & Sir J. Reynolds’, – and I am disappointed, for there was nothing like Mrs. D. at either. – I can only imagine that Mr. D. prizes any Picture of her too much to like it should be exposed to the public eye. – I can imagine he wd have that sort [of, omitted] feeling – that mixture of Love, Pride & Delicacy. [p. 213]
 
 Letter 86.  July 3-6, 1813, to Francis Austen from Chawton
 
You will be glad to hear that every Copy of S.&S. is sold & that it has brought me £140 – besides the Copyright, if that shd ever be of any value. – I have now therefore written myself into £250. – which only makes me long for more. – I have something on hand – which I hope on the credit of P. & P. will sell well, tho’ not half so entertaining… [referring to Mansfield Park] [p. 217]
 
 Letter 87.  September 15-16, 1813, to Cassandra from London
 
Lady Robert [Kerr, nee Mary Gilbert] delighted with P. & P – and really was so I understand before she knew who wrote it – for, of course, she knows now. – He [Henry] told her with as much satisfaction as if it were my wish.  He did not tell me this, but he told Fanny.  And Mr. Hastings – I am quite delighted with what such a Man writes about it. – Henry sent him the Books after his return from Daylesford – but you will hear the Letter too.  // Let me be rational & return to my two full stops. [p. 218]
 
I long to have you hear Mr. H’s [Warren Hastings] opinion of P&P.  His admiring of Elizabeth so much is particularly welcome to me. [p. 221]
 
 
Letter 89.  September 23-24, 1813, to Cassandra from Godmersham Park
 
Poor Dr. Isham is obliged to admire P.&P. – & to send me word that he is sure he shall not like Mde. Darblay’s new Novel half so well. – Mrs. C. [Cooke] invented it all of course. [referring to Frances Burney’s The Wanderer, published in 1814] [p. 227]
 
 
Letter 90.  September 25, 1813, to Francis Austen from Godmerhsam Park  
 
I thank you very warmly for your kind consent to my application & the kind hint that followed it. [asking Frank if she can use the names of his old ships in her her current work, MP] – but the truth is that the Secret has spread so far as to be scarcely the Shadow of a secret now – & that I beleive whenever the 3d appears I shall not even attempt to tell Lies about it. – I shall rather try to make all the Money than all the Mystery I can of it. – People shall pay for their knowledge if I can make them. – Henry heard P. & P. warmly praised in Scotland, by Lady Robt Kerr & another Lady; – and what does he do in the warmth of his Brotherly vanity & Love, but immediately tell them who wrote it! – A Thing once set going in that way – one knows how it spreads! – and he, dear Creature, has set is going so much more than once.  I know it is done from affection & partiality – but at the same time, let me here again express to you & Mary my sense of the superior kindness which you have shewn on the occasion, in doing what I wished. – I am trying to harden myself. – After all, what a trifle it is in all its Bearings, to the really important points of one’s existence even in the World!  [p. 231]

Henry Austen

 
There is to be a 2d Edition of S.&S. Egerton advises it. [p. 232, referring to her publisher]
 
 
Letter 104.  August 10-18, 1814, to Anna Austen from Chawton
 
Now we have finished the 2d book – or rather the 5th – I do think you had better omit Lady Helena’s postscript; to those who are acquainted with P.&P it will seem an Imitation. [p. 268, referring to Anna’s manuscript sent to JA for advice]
 
  
Letter 128.  November 26, 1815, to Cassandra from London
 
Mr. H is reading Mansfield Park for the first time & prefers it to P&P. [p. 301, referring to Mr. Haden, London surgeon, who brought good Manners & clever conversation]
 
  
Letter 132(Draft).  December 11, 1815, to James Stanier Clarke from London
 
My greatest anxiety at present is that this 4th work [Emma] shd not disgrace what was good in the others.  But on this point I will do myself the justice to declare that whatever may be my wishes for its’ success, I am very strongly haunted by the idea that to those readers who have preferred P&P. it will appear inferior in Wit, & to those who preferred MP. very inferior in good sense… [p. 306]
 
 
Letter 134(A).  December 27, 1815, from the Countess of Morley to JA at Chawton
 
I am most anxiously waiting for an introduction to Emma…. I am already become quite intimate in the Woodhouse family, & feel that they will not amuse & interest me less than the Bennetts [sic], Bertrams, Norriss & all their admirable predecessors – I can give them no higher praise- [p. 308]
 
************************************
 [a letter-writing Fanny Austen-Knight by Cassandra]
Ah! indeed! – no higher praise…
 
 
Further reading:

[Posted by Deb]

A Trifle for your Holiday Table

One of my favorite recipes for the holidays is a trifle, that mix of biscuits, cream, and fruit, that makes as much a table decoration as a delicious dessert.  Here is the recipe from The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye [British Museum Press, 1995]  The first part of the recipe in italics is the text from either the manuscript of Martha Lloyd’s Recipe Book or Martha Rundell’s A New System of Domestic Cookery (1806);  followed by the modern interpretation by Black and Le Faye.

A Trifle:  From Martha Lloyd’s Recipe Book, p. 35:

Take three Naple Biscuits cut them in Slices dip them in sack lay them in the bottom of your dish, then make a custard of a pint of cream & five Eggs & put over them then make a whipt Syllabub as light as possible to cover the whole the higher it is piled the handsomer it looks.

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  • 1 quantity Solid Custard [see below]
  • plain Madeira cake, cut in 1-inch slice to line the bottom and 1/3 of the sides of a 2 1/2 pint [6 1/4-cup] glass bowl
  • medium dry sherry to moisten
  • 1 quantity Solid Syllabub [see below]
  • chopped, candied or crystallized fruits to decorate [optional]

The original Naples biscuits were twice-baked, hard sponge cakes stored for use when needed for eating with or in 18th-century sweet “creams”; I have used instead plain Madeira cake.  The sack (sherry) was intended to soften the biscuits, so go easy when adding it to the softer modern cake.

Make the Solid Custard first so that it is cooled (but not yet set) when you are ready to add it to the sponge cake and before you want to add the syllabub.  The dessert will then have interesting, contrasting layers.  Follow the original recipe above for adding the syllabub.  Use chopped, candied or crystallized fruits, if you wish, for a period-style decoration on top of the trifle.  [Serves 6]  [page 121]

Solid Custard: [Martha Lloyd’s Recipe Book,  p. 90]

In a quart of Milk boil and oz. of Isinglass until the latter nis dissolved, then strain it through a Sive, let it stand a short time, add the Yolks of five Eggs well beaten, mix them with the Milk & set it on the fire until it is as thick as a rich boiled Custard, sweeten & put it into a Mould to prepare it for the Table – A few Bitter Almonds or a Bay leaf will improve the flavour very much. 

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  • 2 pints [5 cups]
  • 2 fresh bay leaves or 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons powdered gelatin
  • 4 egg-yokes, beaten
  • 1-2 tablespoons caster (superfine) sugar
  • fresh bay leaves to decorate (optional)

Bring the milk with the bay leaves or leaf almost to scalding point in a saucepan, scatter on the gelatine and stir until it dissolves.  Leave to stand for a few minutes, then take out the bay and whisk in the egg yolks  and sugar.  Heat the mixture very slowly, stirring occasionally, so that it thickens before reaching the boil.  Transfer it to a decorative mould or dish and leave it to get thoroughly cold before serving.  This may take several hours.  Decorate with 1 or 2 fresh bay leaves if you like.  For a pouring custard, reduce or omit the gelatine.  [p. 61]

Solid Syllabubs: [Martha Rundell.  A New System of Domestic Cookery, 1806 ed., p. 204]

Mix a quart of thick raw cream, one pound of refined sugar, a pint and a half of fine raisin wine in a deep pan, put to it the grated peel and the juice of three lemons.  Beat, or whisk it one way half an hour,  then put it in a sieve with a bit of thin mustard laid smooth in the shallow end till next day.  Put in glasses.  It will keep good, in a cool place, ten days.

**********************************************

  • juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon lump sugar, coarsely crushed
  • 14 fl oz [1 3/4 cups] double (heavy) cream
  • 7oz (1 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
  • 8fl oz (1 cup) medium-dry white wine
  • light sprinkling of dry English mustard powder

Beat the mixture in the bowl with an electric beater or rotary whisk until it is thick and stands in peaks.  Turn it into sparklingly clean dessert glasses and chill overnight.  As an attractive decoration, mix the reserved grated rind and crushed sugar and sprinkle this on the syllabubs just before serving. [p. 85]

Put aside half the grated lemon rind and all the lump sugar.  Mix all the rest of the ingredients in a deep bowl.  Use enough caster sugar to sweeten well but without being sickly; the exact quantity will depend on the sweetness of the wine.  Use only a thin sprinkling of mustard; it should just give “body” to the lemon and wine, not be noticable.

***************************************************

 Phew! that all seems exhausting, doesn’t it?  So for a simpler version [i.e the way I make it], you can use lady fingers or sponge cake, either make a soft custard or use vanilla pudding, alternate layers of the lady fingers, fresh fruit (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, kiwis, bananas, or what you will), rum to soak the cakes at each layer, top with whipped cream and strawberries to decorate… it is lovely, just watch the rum- it sinks to the bottom so the last helpings can cause inebriation! – my Fannie Farmer cookbook calls this “Tipsy Pudding” for a reason!

[Trifle image from trendir.com]

[Posted by Deb]

Austen Letter No. 2 ~ “My Tears Flow…”

The Times Online in this Then and Now article re-publishes the Times Literary Supplement review of November 10, 1932,  E.M. Forster on Chapman’s edition of Austen’s letters.  It is a fascinating read.

***********************************************

And on that note, I continue my Austen Letters journey, here with Letter No. 2:

  • January 14-15, 1796 (Thursday, Friday)
  • Jane Austen (Steventon) to Cassandra Austen [Kintbury, Newbury: Rev, Fowle’s home]
  • Present ownership and location unknown

Austen begins with a response to Cassandra’s last letter, and feeling disappointed that their plans to be reunited have gone awry; she then talks of the upcoming ball at Ashe and the friends she will see there:  Edward Cooper, James, Buller, and of course Tom Lefroy.  This passage and the later one penned the next day have long been the subject of a wide range of conjecture in articles, essays, biographies, and movies.  Little did Jane suspect that these few lines would give rise to such a mass of words!…so I quote these directly:

…I look forward with great impatience to it [the ball at Ashe], as I rather expect to receive an offer from my friend in the course of the evening.  I shall refuse him, however, unless he promises to give away his white Coat.

…Tell Mary that I make over Mr. Heartley & all his Estate to her for her sole use and Benefit in future, & not only him, but all my other Admirers into the bargain wherever she can find them, even the kiss which C. Powlett wanted to give me, as I mean to confine myself in future to Mr. Tom Lefroy, for whom I donot care sixpence….

Friday.- At length the Day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, & when you receive this it will be over – My tears flow as I write, at the melancholy idea.

 So much speculation on all this, coupled with Austen’s later reference to Lefroy in her letters, as well as other family references…one is not sure how to interpret Austen’s feelings for Lefroy.  The various biographers have their own opinions, from Park Honan, who says that Austen pursued Tom Lefroy and “fell deeply in love” and was “long obsessed with [him]” and equates Anne Elliot’s “we do not forget you” speech in Persuasion  with Austen’s not forgetting Tom Lefroy all those years later; Honan has a very romantic interpretation that Jane was very forward and suffered much in his leaving.  David Nokes in his Jane Austen: A Life [Farrar, 1997] emphasizes Austen’s love of flirtation and concludes that the attachment between Jane and Tom was very real.  Claire Tomalin in Jane Austen: A life [Viking 1997] states that Austen’s first extant letter is the “only surviving letter in which Jane is clearly writing as the heroine of her own youthful story” and that by Letter 2 she already has her defences up [p.119].  Tomalin believes that Austen’s reference to Fielding’s Tom Jones [in Letter 1] is a very provocative remark…Austen is making clear that “she doesn’t mind talking about a novel that deals candidly and comically with sexual attraction and sexual behaviors and she is telling Cassandra that she and Lefroy have openly discussed this book [p. 117].  But she is gravely injured in his leaving, and henceforth “her writing becomes informed by this knowledge of sexual vulnerability, running like a dark undercurrent beneath the comedy” [p.122].   

But the book and movie “Becoming Jane” has played upon the most romantic notions that stay with us in our hopes that Jane did have such a love and lost [see the references below that try hard to refute all this, especially by Joan Klingel Ray, who makes a strong case that Lefroy was already spoken for and realized he he was acting badly to Austen knowing she was “interested” in him…shades of Frank Churchill and Edward Ferrars?].  The Family Record makes it clear that as there was no further information as to what happened at the ball that last night, “it is unlikely he proposed or that Jane Austen thought that he would;” Tom was never asked there again as Madame Lefroy “did not like Tom because he had behaved badly to Jane”… but concludes that this was all a “temporary disappointment” as she shortly afterwords began her “bright and sparkling” story of “First Impressions” [later P&P]

Is Austen just evoking humor here to give Cassandra a laugh, offering up all her potential beaus to others, or does she really care something for Lefroy and really hurting at his going away?  Does the “offer” she refer to mean a marriage proposal or an offer to dance [as Ray suggests in her article]?  The fact that Cassandra did not destroy or edit these passages seems to indicate that they did not mean as much as “Becoming Jane” would like us to believe.  It is so easy to let our imaginations fill in the gaps that the letters leave for us.  So I put this out there for discussion… what do you think Austen means in these passages??  How much is she just playing and being facetious?

Though Austen speaks of Tom Lefroy in several places in this letter, there are other lines of interest:  one oft-quoted passage is “I am very much flattered by your commendation of my last Letter, for I write only for Fame, and without any view to pecuniary Emolument.”  Here is Austen at her very best!  And there are the usual references to friends and family, those whose names will appear again and again :  Eliza; Charles Fowle (“I hope he will be too hot for the rest of his life for it!” (regarding her stockings…); the Coopers, Anna; the Miss Biggs; Tom Fowle; the Rivers; and a comment to Cassandra that “I am very glad to find from Mary that Mr. & Mrs. Fowle are pleased with you…I hope you will continue to give satisfaction.”… and so on to Letter 3 for another day… with a huge jump from January 1796 to August 1796…

Further reading: (just a few of the many…)

  • Auerbach, Emily.  “Searching for Jane Austen: Restoring the ‘Fleas’ and ‘Bad Breath.’ ”  Persuasions, No. 27 (2005),  pp.  31-38.
  • Bander, Elaine.  “Jane Austen’s Letters:  Facts and Fictions.”  Persuasions, No. 27 (2005), pp. 119-129.
  • Fergus, Jan. ” ‘The Whinnying of Harpies’? – Humor in Jane Austen’s Letters.” Persuasions, No. 27 (2005) pp.13-29.
  • Wenner, Barbara. “Following the Trail of Jane Austen’s Letters.”  Persuasions, No. 27 (2005), pp. 130-141.
  • Ray, Joan Klingel.  “The One-Sided Romance of Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy”  Persuasions Online Vol. 28, No. 1, Winter 2007.
  • Canal Academie: “The True Love Life of Jane Austen”  discusses the movie “Becoming Jane.”
  • Spence, John.  Review of Jane Austen: A Family Record  in JASNA News (Summer 2005), where Spence questions Le Faye’s interpretation of this letter about Tom Lefroy.
  • Huff, Marsha.  “Becoming Jane:  Sorting Fact from Fiction,” at JASNA.org.
  • Walker, Linda Robinson.  “Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy: Stories”  Persuasions Online, v.27, no 1 (Winter 2006)
  • ” ‘I was too proud to make any inquiries’ ” Jane Austen’s Eleventh Letter” at the The Loiterer
  • Nokes, David.  Jane Austen: A Life. Farrar, Straus, 1997.  See online,  Chapter 5 “Proflilgate and Shocking.”
  • Tomalin, Claire.  Jane Austen: A life.  Viking, 1997.
  • Honan, Park.  Jane Austen, her life.  St. Martin’s Press, 1987.
  • Austen-Leigh, William and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh.  Jane Austen: a Family Record; revised and enlarged by Deirdre Le Faye.  London, 1989.  See also the 2nd edition published by Cambridge University Press, 2003, which includes additions and corrections and a changed format.
  • The Becoming Jane Fansite, the go-to place for all things Jane & Tom.
  • Fashion and Fun in 1796 (from the Regency Fashion Page), for thoughts on what was going on when Austen wrote this letter.

A Journey through Jane Austen’s Letters

I have read many of Austen’s letters through the years, and certainly know the majority of quotes that are repeated over and over…but I am finally committing myself to going through each letter in chronological order and reading through all the accompanying notes and references ( my source and Essential Austen title: Jane Austen’s Letters, collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye, 3rd edition, Oxford University Press, 1997)…. and I invite you all to take this journey with me, one letter at a time, one day at a time. 

So often these letters, and the sentences or words from them, are quoted out of context, and I feel compelled to make some sense of it all, to go back to the original source and get a feel for what Austen was really saying.  There are so many gaps in the letters, either from Cassandra’s choice to edit and / or destroy many of her sister’s writings, or because the sisters were not apart and hence no need to write (and of course there are only a few letters from Cassandra herself, and because Austen often refers back to a received letter, and with her constant comments on her sister’s writing abilities and humor, the reader is saddened by this loss.)

There are also many primary and secondary sources on the letters and I will discuss these periodically (see also the Letters Page, which I will continually add to), but I think I better just start the process and let it evolve from there.  I encourage you to comment, suggest sources, offer suggestions or interpretation, so please visit often and participate.  For those of you who know the letters backwards and forwards, and for those just discovering them, please take this journey with me.  I think all of us might learn something new along the way.  I know I already have….

This will be the format: 

  • letter number
  • date
  • sender (their location) / recipient (their location)
  • location of letter today
  • synopsis; quotes of import; comment

So today I start with Letter No. 1:

  • January 9 – 10 (Sat, Sun) 1796
  • Jane (Steventon) to Cassandra (Kintbury, Newbury [Rev. Fowles home])
  • Original MS untraced

 This is Austen’s first documented letter and one of the most quoted.  It is here that Jane writes of her attachment to Tom Lefroy and she refers to him often in this letter…”I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved.  Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together.”  She tells of the balls- “we had an exceedingly good ball last night”, who she danced with (Warren, Charles Watkins, and “fighting hard” to escape John Lyford), commenting on Miss Heathcote (“[she] is pretty, but not near so handsome as I expected”), and the many references to friends that we meet again and again in her letters.  We read of her latest fashion thoughts, the silk stockings she cannot afford but the white gloves and pink persian (silk) she can, and much on her brother Charles and brother Henry and his latest plan to obtaining a lieutenancy.

The letter ends with another lengthy reference to Tom Lefroy:  “he has but one fault…his morning coat is a great deal too light.  He is a great admirer of Tom Jones, and therefore he wears the same coloured clothes, I imagine, which he did when he was wounded.”

So in this first letter,  (Jane was 20 years old writing this letter on Cassandra’s 23rd birthday and the letter opens with “In the first place I hope you will live twenty-three years longer”)  we are introduced into Austen’s life, her family and friends, her likes and dislikes, and her biting wit, her poking fun at others and so very often herself.  Her letters to her sister were entertainment for both of them when they were apart, and in just these few pages we are drawn into this late 18-century world, with all its domestic goings-on, and we are glad to be in such company.  These letters are a veritable feast!