Letter to Cassandra Monday 21-Wed. 23 January 1799 — “What time in March may we expect your return in?”

Jane Austen writes again to her older sister Cassandra, who remains away visiting their brother Edward in Kent.  Per the notes, there is a letter missing here in her correspondence.  Austen though seems to be continuing an apology for an empty sheet/requiring the postage being paid for blank paper from previous letters earlier in January and perhaps the missing letter from before this one, was rather on the shorter side, because she writes joking about the charge from the local postmaster: “I will endeavour to make this letter more worthy your acceptance than my last, which was so shabby a one I think Mr. Marshall could never charge you with postage.”  (Austen’s own spelling.)

Austen then relays that her eyes are improving from her previous illness and gives an update on their brother Charles and his naval commissions, and his plans to travel to recently arrived and docked ship, “The Tamar,” which did not exactly work out.  Austen in fact sounded like she was a bit frustrated about scheduling: “I want to go with him, that I may explain the country to him properly between Canterbury and Rowling, but the unpleasantness of returning by myself deters me.”

The relaying a little bit of gossip and/or another’ lady’s opinion of the Austen men: “Martha writes me word that Charles was very much admired at Kintbury, and Mrs. Lefroy never saw anyone so much improved in her life, and thinks him handsomer than Henry.”

Austen adds on her own comments about their brother Charles: “He appears to far more advantage here than he did at Godmersham, not surrounded by strangers and neither oppressed by a pain in his face or powder in his hair.”  Austen leaves off and goes onto other subjects, but later will return to the change in Charles’ appearance.

She then includes an update family news via letter received by Mrs. Austen from their cousin Edward Cooper, details a new living and a move to Staffordshire including a good amount of Austen’s wicked wit:  “Staffordshire is a good way off; so we shall see nothing more of them till, some fifteen years hence, the Miss Coopers are presented to us, fine, jolly, handsome, ignorant girls.”  Austen then specifies the amount of the living before again summing up, and somewhat teasingly adding: “Our first cousins seem all dropping off very fast.”

Austen then jumps from family to neighborhood social news, “Our ball on Thursday was a very poor one, only eight couple and but twenty-three people in the room; but it was not the ball’s fault, for we were deprived of two or three families by the sudden illness of their neighbor Mr. Wither, who was seized that morning at Winchester with a return of his former alarming complaint.”

Continues to update Cassandra with a run down of the smaller ball and her dancing partners, as well as an update for Mr. Withers who had fallen ill: “In such a disorder his danger, I suppose, must always be great; but from this attack he is now rapidly recovering, and will be well enough to return to Manydown.”  As well as a bit of a report on their sister: “Mary behaved very well, and was not at all fidgety.  For the history of her adventures at the ball I refer you to Anna’s letter.”

Austen then shifts back to their brother Charles and apparently outfitting him for his new post, then pausing to note: “Tuesday.–Your letter has pleased and amused me very much.  Your essay on happy fortnights is highly ingenious, and the talobert skin made laugh a good deal.”

Readers here are left out of the loop.  There is no way to know what Cassandra wrote about a “happy fortnight” or two weeks, and the notes presume “talobert” is either a misreading of rabbit skin or a in-family joke.

Also in response to Cassandra’s recent letter, Austen provides a mom update: “It began to occur to me before you mentioned it that I had been somewhat silent as to my mother’s health for some time, but I thought you could have no difficultly in divining its exact state–you, who have guessed so much stranger things.”

From the tone, seems Austen’s patience with her mother’s complaints are wearing a bit thin: “She is tolerably well–better upon the whole than she was some weeks ago.  She would tell you herself that she has a very dreadful cold in her head at present; but I have not much compassion for colds in the head without fever or sore throat.”

The it’s back to domestic business, with a reference to Charles “Our own particular little brother,” resuming his travel plans and per the notes a joke and/or reference to Burney’s novel Camilla.  Before happily delegating to Cassandra, purchasing clothes while away in Kent: “I have no objection at all to your buying our gowns there, as your imagination has pictured to you exactly such a one as is necessary to make me happy.”   Austen also praises Cassandra, “You quite abash me by your progress in notting, I am still without silk.”  Per the notes, “notting” is most likely a misreading of “netting,” which was a fashionable at the time, and a process often used on clothing and accessories, and per the notes, Austen referenced netting in her novels: Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice.

Here, Austen returns to the recent changes in their brother Charles’ appearance.  Per the notes, apparently he cut his hair, as Austen refers to him as a “crop.”  In addition, the fashion of the cropped hair and losing the wigs, was it appears, a bit of a touchy subject between the siblings: “I thought Edward would not approve of Charles being a crop, and rather wished you to conceal it from him at present, lest it might fall on his sports and retard his recovery.”

Although it is difficult to know, but it definitely seems like Austen is asking for a sisterly confidence here.  Again missing letters perhaps hold the key, but apparently Edward was ill, and from afar their brother Edward (the wealthly brother), may have been upset by these changes in Charles, even if it wasn’t politically motivated.  Per the notes, “a new fashion for young men, and viewed with some disapproval since it might imply sympathy with the fashions of Republican France.”

This letter then turns to domestic talk of animals and food provisions, as well as another update on a neighborhood marriage announcement, before Austen implores her sister:  “What time in March may we expect your return in?  I begin to be very tired of answering people’s questions on the subject, and, independent of that, I shall be very glad to see you home again, and then if we can get Martha and shirk … … who will be so happy as we?”  Presuming that “Martha” is their friend Martha Lloyd — rest though a mystery.  Per the notes, it’s unclear if Cassandra or another relative struck this out, regarding Austen’s plans: “I think of going to Ilbthorop in”

But this is left as a fragment, for Austen continues noting: “Wednesday, 23rd.”  With birthday wishes to her niece: “I wish my dear Fanny many returns of this day, and receiving from her doll’s beds.”

And Austen closes this letter a final update about their brother: “I have just heard from Charles, who is by this time at Deal.  He is to be Second Lieutenant, which pleases him likewise.”  Apparently, there was a change in ship assignment as well: “He expects to be ordered to Sheerness shortly, as the ‘Tamar’ has never been refitted.”

All notes/cites to: Jane Austen’s Letters, collected and edited by Deidre Le Fay, Oxford University Press, 4th edition, 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Digression: Bookstore Memories — The White Rabbit.

The White Rabbit Bookstore, was one of the first proper bookstores, I visited as a child in the city.  To my memory it was long and a bit narrow.  There were wooden shelves of books, mid-low to the ground, so children had easy access.  Also dolls, stuffed animals and toys on display throughout perhaps on the higher shelves or on top of bookcases not so much for sale but as decorations.

Sometimes think it in a slight way was similar in concept to vision of writer/director Nora Ephron’s fictional store, “The Shop Around the Corner,” in the film: You’ve Got Mail.  Except not as airy or with such quaint displays.  Remember the walls were a pale green, sort of a light olive color and the lighting was warm but not natural.  There was an area, similar to a window seat, toward the back.  Can recall sitting down there for a bit and my mum coming to get me and I do remember buying one of the Little House books there.  I believe it was, Little House in the Big Woods, which I was surprised to find it was the first book in the series.  For I had read Little House on the Prairie first, ordered through one of the monthly Scholastic catalogs at school, and after reading the series always took issue with the television series and how the show really diverted from the books.

The White Rabbit, I’m presuming was named for the character in Alice in Wonderland. Over time my memories of it have become dimmer, because I was probably about seven or eight years old when I visited in the 1970’s.  Was located in the newly renovated and opened Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall Marketplace. Not in Quincy Market’s main building which had been transformed from a food distribution center to a food court, with small stalls and pushcarts as part of urban renewal project, but either the North or South market buildings which featured retail and restaurants on the ground and first floors and offices upstairs.  These days, the North and South buildings remain but the upper/first floor small shops have pretty much been eliminated, either for retail of the ground floor tenants having additional space, or for offices.  As a local teen I set my sights on working in Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall, and I did — starting senior year  in high school and for a few years in college in South Market during summers and school breaks.

We may have made only one visit to The White Rabbit Bookstore, but it made a grand impression. Only other memory of that day, and visit to the marketplace with my mum, was eating lunch at the Magic Pan restaurant, located upstairs in the main Quincy Market building.  Apparently, as I have rechecked online, it was a small chain restaurant that served different kinds of crepes.  By the time I started working in the marketplace in the late 1980’s the Magic Pan was gone, replaced by another restaurant and comedy club, which faded away as well.

Not sure when The White Rabbit bookstore closed.  Again have tried searching online but The White Rabbit Bookstore, along with many of the other departed stores and restaurants, that I recall from over the years in Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall Marketplace seem to have just faded into the ether without a trace into the larger abyss of Lost Boston.

 

Letter to Cassandra Tues. Jan. 8 — Thurs. January 9, 1799. Who is “he” and why did he want to throw her fan in the River?

For some time, before the invention of the telephone, and even long distance calling, there was something wonderful about receiving a long, newsy letter.  This moment in time has long disappeared, although it made a brief reoccurrence in the 1990’s, with the advent of email or electronic mail, when it first became a mode of communication.  Before spam, chain email, scams, phishing — many people would check their accounts hoping for a long, newsy letter via this electronic format, from people that lived far enough away that long distance calling was not possible or very infrequent.  But eventually technology in the other forms primarily social media and the invention of the cell phone soon to be the smart phone took that all away.

Here hundreds of years before the word “electronic” — Jane Austen is writing from her home in Steventon writes her older sister Cassandra visiting their brother in Kent, a post-Christmas letter full of early January news, although per the notes, this letter follows one missing in the collection of her correspondence.  Through the letter Austen states that she is feeling pretty ill, and in print documents, initially debates turning the letter over to their Mother to finish writing out for her.

This correspondence begins with Jane thanking her older sister for her latest letter, admiring her writing, “You must read your letters over five times in the future before you send them, & then perhaps you may find them as entertaining as I do.–I laughed at several parts of the one which I am now answering.”  Again, this makes me long for Cassandra’s letters to read her side of their correspondence.” (Underline emphasis is Austen’s own.)

Austen starts this letter stating their brother Charles, with a worry because of an upcoming ball: “The Ball at Kempshott is this Evening, & I have got him an invitation, though I have not been so considerate as to get him a Partner.” (Underline emphasis is Austen’s own.)  This continues with some sister discussion of a possible love interest, “But the cases are different between him & Eliza Bailey, for he is not a dieing way, & therefore may be equal to getting a partner for himself.”  (Spelling is Austen’s own.)

Austen acknowledges relaying a previous incorrect date for the ball and is full on pushing back with her wicked wit: “Elizabeth is very cruel about my writing Music;–& as a punishment for her, I should insist upon always writing out all hers for her in the future, if I were not punishing myself at the same time.”

Which diverts into a comment about their brother Edward, “I am tolerably glad to hear of Edward’s income is so good a one–as glad as I can at anybody’s being rich besides You & me–& I am thoroughly rejoiced to here of his present to you.”  Austen seems to be happy to hear Edward made some sort of a monetary gift to her older sister, then discusses her attire for the ball and other wardrobe issues, which includes a “Mamlouc cap,” which per the notes, was very much Egyptian inspired fashion of the time.

The next item she tackled was an upcoming visit to their Cooke cousins, which again per the notes, Cassandra may have censored to protect these relatives from the harsh if not wicked wit, “I assure You that I dread the idea of going to Bookham as much as you can do; but I am not without hopes that something may happen to prevent it, Theo’ has lost his Election at Baliol, & perhaps they may not be able to see company for some time.–They talk of going to Bath too in the Spring, & perhaps they may be overturned in their way down, & all laid up for the summer.”

Here, Austen notes, “I have had a cold & weakness in one of my eyes for some days, which makes Writing neither very pleasant nor profitable & which will probably prevent my finishing this letter myself.–My Mother has undertaken to do it for me, & I shall leave the Kempshott Ball for her.”

Austen continues joking in writing about the Wither family: “Mary grows rather more reasonable about her Child’s beauty, & says that she does not think him really handsome; but I suspect her moderation to be something like that of W-W-‘s Mama.”  Per the notes, a descendent of the Wither family stated via F. Awry, A Country Gentleman of the Nineteenth Century, “‘It was a custom of the Wither clan to fuss and talk a great [deal] about bad health.'”  So Cassandra, knowing the Withers, was well in on the joke.

Austen then describes the attendance at the event, “Catherine has the honour of giving her name to a set, which will be composed of two Withers, two Heathcotes, a Blackford, & no Bigg except herself.”  (Spelling is Austen’s own.) Per the notes, Austen again is writing a bit of an inside joke with writing about “the set” for her sister about the house party in naming everyone as Catherine is technically the only Bigg, her father and brother were Bigg-Wither and her married sister the Heathcote.

Austen then reacts very pleasantly, presumably of Cassandra writing about their nephew, “My sweet little George!–I am delighted to hear that he has such an inventive Genius as to face-making.”   Apparently, their nephew was inventive using the sealing wax, “I admire his yellow wafer very much, & I hope he will chuse the wafer for your next letter.”  (Spelling is Austen’s own.)

Now there is a brief return to wardrobe or is there? “I wore my Green shoes last night & took my white fan with me: I am very glad he never threw it into the River.”  Going to pause here for a moment, as fans were often used for communication and flirting, that doesn’t puzzle me — but sounds like there is more to the story here.  Who is he, and how did he get Jane Austen’s fan?  Did she give it to him?  Was it a joke gone wrong or an argument of some sort?  Questions remain, but Cassandra is in the know and sadly we are not and there is nothing in the notes about it.

Austen does not dwell here, presumably she continues writing with Cassandra’s understanding of the fan and river reference, and revisits the subject of their brother Edward again, and Mrs. Knight, “Mrs. Knights giving up the Godmersham Estate to Edward was no such prodigious act of Generosity after all it seems for she has reserved herself an income out of it still;–this ought to be known, that her conduct may not be over-rated.–I rather think Edward shows the most Magnanimity of the two, in accepting her Resignation with such Incumbrances.”  (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)  Seems to be commenting on the transition of Edward’s formal taking over the estate as well as Mrs. Knight’s yearly annuity of two thousand pounds which he must pay, but more so on their public and private personas and actions around this matter, which seems to be an ongoing issue of concern of the sisters for their brother.  Not suggesting here that they are concerned for Edward supporting or sheltering them, although he would ultimately provide the Chawton cottage for them.

Austen continues this letter with a little update that she is feeling more and has not had to recruit Mrs. Austen just yet, “The more I write, the better my Eye gets, so I shall at least keep on till it is quite well, before I give up my pen to my Mother.”  (Austen’s own punctuation.)

And so Austen describes the ball with all of her keen observations and touches of wicked wit: “Mrs. Bramston was very civil, kind & noisy.–I spent a very pleasant evening chiefly among the Manydown party.–There was the same kind of supper as last Year, & the same want of chairs.– There were more Dancers than the Room could conveniently hold, which is enough to constitute a good Ball at any time.”

Also notes for Cassandra how much she danced with a little bit of resignation: “I do not think I was very much in request–. People were rather apt not to ask me till they could not help it.”

Austen also describes a possible missed connection: “There was one Gentleman, an officer of the Cheshire, a very good looking young Man, who I was told wanted very much to be introduced to me;– but he did not want it quite enough to take much trouble in effecting it, We could never bring it about.”  Austen seems disappointed writing to Cassandra, noting how the introduction was needed — I am presuming to have it go forward, and perhaps to dancing or conversation, but just did not happen.

Continues to update her older sister about the ball, while chiding their brother, “Charles never came!–Naughty Charles.”

Continues on with a wrap up of the ball and related news of the attendees, before Austen quips: “Miss Debary has replaced your two sheets of Drawing paper, with two of superior size & quality; so I do not grudge her of having them at all now.”

Austen then relays news of a couple of recent marriages before stating: “I do not wonder at your wanting to read first impressions again, so seldom as you have gone through it, & that so long ago.”  This is an interesting reference to early draft manuscript of what would ultimately become Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  From Austen’s letter here, it seems Cassandra it seems to have an ongoing interest in the story and wanted to read and perhaps comment on it again.

There is no dwelling on her literary work here, Austen continues the letter, going back to more perhaps troubling domestic matters: “I am much obliged to you for meaning to leave my old petticoat behind You; I have long secretly wished it might be done, but had not the courage to make the request.”

Austen includes some local, business news as well: “The partnership between Jeffreys boomer & Legge is dissolved.” This was a banking partnership in Basingstoke, although the notes, do not clarify if the Austens were personally impacted, but apparently it was big enough neighborhood news for Jane to include it to Cassandra in this letter.

Austen closes with well wishes: “I wish you Joy of your Birthday twenty times over.”  And then adds at the very end an apology: “Do not be angry with me for not filing my Sheet–” Perhaps because she was still feeling ill Austen did not use the last page of the letter entirely which was unusual because paper was so expensive, people wrote on every inch, plus per the notes, Cassandra would still have to pay the same amount of postage for an empty sheet.

All notes, cites to: Jane Austen’s Letters, collected and edited by Deidre LeFaye, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digression: Invitation — Nov. 6, 2017, New York City–Where are the women? New Central Park monument.

Via the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Trust — NYC Parks, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, & The Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund cordially invite you to attend the launch of: The Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Woman Suffrage Movement Monument, Monday, November 6th, 2017, 11:30 a.m. The Mall, Central Park (between 67th and 68th Streets) RSVP to 212-360-8143 or Colombina.valera@parks.nyc.gov — Organized in partnership with New York Life and The Central Park Conservancy.  For more information please visit these websites: Elizabethcadystanton.org; MonumentalWomen.org and CentralParkWhereAreTheWomen.org

Letter to Cassandra, Friday 28 December 1798–“This letter is to be dedicated entirely to Good News.”

Just days after Christmas, Jane Austen is writing to her older sister Cassandra, who is still away visiting at their brother Edward’s estate Godmersham Park in Kent.

Austen begins this rather short letter with another brother’s career update: “Frank is made.–He was yesterday raised to the Rank of Commander, & appointed to the Petterel Sloop, now at Gibraltar.–A Letter from Daysh has just announced this, & as it is confirmed by a very friendly one from Mr. Matthew to the same effect transcribing one from Admiral Gambier to the General, We have no reason to suspect the truth of it.” Per the notes there is a little extended family connection going on here, per the notes, General Matthew is the father of James Austen’s first wife and his niece Louisa the wife of the Admiral Lord Gambier.

This is followed by a little of Austen’s wicked wit with even more news: “As soon as you have cried a little for Joy, you may go on, & learn farther that the India House have taken Captn Austen’s Petition into Consideration–this comes from Daysh & likewise that Lieut. Charles John Austen is now removed to the Tamer Frigate.–We cannot find out where the Tamer is, but I hope we shall now see Charles here at all Events.”  (Austen’s own abbreviations and underlines.)  Austen codifies all this with: “This letter is to be dedicated entirely to Good News.”

She then moves onto household matters, “If you will send my father an account of your Washing & Letter expenses & c., he will send You a draft for the amount of it, as well as for your next quarter, & for Edward’s Rent.”  (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

The wit returns with a bit of a sisterly rebuke: “If you don’t buy a muslin Gown now not he strength of this Money, & Frank’s promotion I shall never forgive You.–”

Reading these letters it is a quite one-sided because I haven’t seen Cassandra’s responses, but it seems to me of the two sisters, she was the more thrifty and economizing, while Jane often bought more textiles for clothing and supplies for caps.  I don’t think that Austen was trying to be more fashionable than her older sister, but it seems she felt more comfortable spending money on these items than her sister did.  Cassandra it seems did not spend much on herself, recalling from other letters, Jane Austen saying she should buy herself some drawing paper, and at times Jane just updating her that she went ahead and made the purchases for Cassandra.  Perhaps this was just the natural order or understanding between them.  But it would be interesting to know about Cassandra’s feeling on her end, if this annoyed or endeared her younger sister Jane to her, etc.

Austen then includes social update, “Mrs. LeFroy has just sent me world that Lady Dorchester means to invite me to her Ball on the 8th of January which tho’ an humble Blessing compared with what the last page records, I do not consider as any Calamity.”

Then Austen summarizes the happy news of their brothers in closing:  “I cannot write any more now, but I have written enough to make you very happy, & therefore may safely conclude.”

All notes and cites to Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th Edition collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye, Oxford University Press, 2011.