All cites as previously mentioned will be to: Jane Austen’s Letters, Fourth Edition, Collected and Edited by Deirdre Le Faye, Oxford University Press. There are a total of 159 letters in this collection, some are just fragments or scraps. The bulk of the letters are from Jane Austen writing to her older sister Cassandra Austen. There are a few letters from Jane to other relatives and also her publisher, as well as a couple of letters from Cassandra, toward the end of the collection.
Despite the fact, that we’re reading primarily only Jane Austen’s letters, I can get a sense of the close intimate relationship she had with her sister Cassandra — especially through her comments and varied reactions, back to her sister about the letters she received and the news and stories they contained.
Can be easy to forget sometimes in this world now of instant communication, that letters sent back and forth often included scheduling. Jane and her sister often exchanged plans for travel from one location to another, trying to plan the escort by a brother, family member or family friend. This seemed to take up a lot of time and space in their exchanges. They also spoke about household accounts, and other expenses for food and for clothing, as well as family news and gossip.
The tone and rhythm of her letters varies — sometimes finding that she is unhappy, displeased or a little short tempered with people she found herself stuck with at gatherings and at badly behaving children. And that’s not to say that she didn’t enjoy children — from her letters I’m gathering Jane Austen loved being an aunt but enjoyed being with, reading to, and amusing children when they were a bit older.
Although as often mentioned now, Cassandra and later relatives cast an editing eye, removing large sections or certain passages of Jane Austen’s letters. Some of the letters in her correspondence are entirely lost, and it’s unknown if this was done purposely or not, or perhaps a combination of both letters being genuinely lost or deliberately removed. What results though are large gaps of time in Jane Austen’s life that remain somewhat unaccounted for — despite the best efforts of scholars and research. These holes in her life’s time-line also have provide a nice window of opportunity for many writers to reach and and fictionalize these gaps with their own creative ideas. Thinking this would have both amused and bemused Jane Austen to some extent.