Literary Digression: An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James

Read Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, awhile back, and while it was well written, personally didn’t care too much for the story line.  In general, I’m not a huge fan of mysteries, but I thought I should read another one of P.D. James’ books to be fair, and I’m glad I did.  Summer reading for me is usually a little bit on the lighter side, and I recently took a few books the majority of them mysteries from a friend who inherited them from a former co-worker. They are all to be registered with Bookcrossing.com and eventually released to other members or through Little Free Libraries or other free book shelves. This was a fast read, and it was fun to read about London and Cambridge in the 1970’s–mini cooper included.

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman was published in 1972, and the lead character Cordelia Gray, has lost her mentor Bernie, and taken over his detective agency when she travels to Cambridge to see about a prospective case.  Actually Jane Austen is mentioned or referenced twice. First up in conversation between the main character Cordelia and her employer’s secretary Miss Leaming —

“When we were traveling here together you were reading Hardy. Do you enjoy him?”

“Very much. But I enjoy Jane Austen more.”

“Then you must try to find an opportunity of visiting the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.  They have a letter written by Jane Austen. I think you’d find it interesting.”

And later a reference to Pride and Prejudice

“He wasn’t particularly forthcoming but he did assure me that the boy had left voluntarily and to use his own words, his conduct while in college had been almost boringly irreproachable.  I need not fear that the shades of Summertrees would be polluted.”

P.D. James a great mystery writer and Janeite.

 

 

 

 

Letter to Cassandra Sat. 27-Sun. 28 October 1798

In this letter over a weekend, Jane Austen writes from her home at Steventon to her older sister Cassandra at Godmersham Park in Kent.  Apparently, Cassandra remained to help their sister in law with the birth of a new baby (William).

Begins by thanking Cassandra for her recent correspondence, “Your letter was a most agreeable surprize to me to day, & I have taken a long sheet of paper to show my Gratitude.”

Austen recounts the journey home to Steventon, which mostly catches Cassandra up on the health and ailments of their mother Mrs. Austen and the various remedies proscribed for these maladies, which included Laudanum and Dandelion Tea.  “We met with no adventures at all in our Journey yesterday, except that our Trunk had once nearly slipped off, & we were obliged to stop at Hartley to have our wheels greazed.”

Once home Austen details domestic tasks, “I went to Mrs. Ryders & bought what I intended to buy, but not in much perfection. — There were no narrow Braces for Children & scarcely any netting silk; but Miss Wood as usual is going to Town very soon, & will lay in a fresh stock.”

And sends her sister a dose of her wicked wit, “I bought some Japan ink likewise, & next week I shall begin my operations on my hat, on which You know my principal hopes of happiness depend. — I am very grand indeed.”

With Cassandra away at her brother’s Godmersham estate and her mother ill, Austen was pretty much running the Steventon household, “I carry about the keys of the Wine & Closet; & twice since I began this letter, have had orders to give in the Kitchen: Our dinner was very good yesterday, & the Chicken boiled perfectly tender; therefore I shall not be obliged to dismiss Nanny on that account.”  Per the notes, “Nanny” is probably a servant Mrs. Hilliard (Anne Knight),  It’s confusing there are a lot of Knights to keep track of in both the family and the neighborhood.

“Almost everything was unpacked & put away last night; — Nanny chose to do it, & I was not sorry to be busy,  — I have unpacked the Gloves & placed yours in your drawer. — Their colour is light & pretty, & I believe exactly what we fixed on.”

Proceeds to catch Cassandra up on neighborhood gossip, comings and goings, including another dose of her wicked wit, that I think was particularly intended only for Cassandra to read — before recounting the poor conditions of the roads traveling back from Kent.

Austen then comments on what seems to have been Dordy (little George) her nephew’s tidings sent via her older sister’s latest correspondence, “My dear itty Dordy’s remembrance of me is very pleasing to me; foolishly pleasing; because I know it will be over so soon.”

Next is an account of unpacking recent literary additions, “The Books from Winton are all unpacked & put away; — the Binding has compressed them most conveniently, & there is now very good room in the Bookcase for all that we wish to have there.”  The notes, did not provide any information on Winton’s per an internet search they seem to still be online shop based in England for rare and vintage books and previously were independent bookstores but the physical retail stores have now closed.  I’m not sure these bookstores go back to Jane Austen’s time, and only did a very quick online search.

And Austen then adds a commentary on her handwriting, “I am quite angry at myself for not writing closer; why is my alphabet so much more sprawling.”  This digression ends with a return to family and local news, including a visit from James Digweed, “I gave him his brother’s deputation.”  These were the papers allowing him as a tenant to go shooting at Steventon alluded to previously.

Austen includes further updates on Mrs. Bennett’s health and progress healing, “My Mother has not been down at all today; the Laudanum made her sleep a good deal, & upon the whole I think she is better; — I shall be able to be more positive on this subject I hope tomorrow.  My father & I dined by ourselves — How strange!”

Austen closes sending kisses to her brother Edward, favorite nice Fanny, little George (Dordy), and leaves off saying, “Tis really very kind in my Aunt to ask us to Bath again; a kindness that deserves a better return that to profit by it.”  Per the notes, the Aunt most likely is Mrs. Leigh-Perrot — although I find it unclear if this is wife of Mrs. Austen’s brother James. Regardless this woman was extending another invitation to visit and stay in Bath which Austen found very kind and generous.

All spellings and grammar in quotes are by Austen, retyped directly. Per the notes, this letter was sold in 1999 via auction to a private collector for 32,000 British pounds.

All notes from, Jane Austen’s Letters, Fourth Edition, Collected and Edited by Deirdre LeFaye, Oxford University Press, 2011.