Jane Austen wrote this letter to her older sister Cassandra, starting on Thurs. January 14, 1796, concluding on Friday evening January 1796. Was written from her home in Steventon at the time — Cassandra was away at the Reverend Fowle’s in Kintbury, Newbury, staying with her fiancee’s family.
There are some interesting tidbits in the letter, particularly in reference to an upcoming ball: “I look forward with great impatience to it, as I rather expect to receive an offer from my friend in the course of the evening.”
Here, was sort of wondering if she really was informing Cassandra of a serious offer of marriage from Tom Lefroy — until Jane Austen follows it immediately with:
“I shall refuse him, however, unless he promises to give away his white Coat.” Which I think is a reference a previous letter where she described to Cassandra — his morning coat which to paraphrase Jane Austen seemed to find found gaudy and relayed to her older sister as a “flaw.” But the tone here about the coat seems to be light and sort of dismissive — perhaps to soften or off set the remark about “the offer.” Perhaps Austen is kidding because she knows no offer is possible because of Lefroy’s circumstances and commitments necessitating his return to Ireland.
The letter continues on with news of family and events and also notes the delay of departure of Cassandra’s fiancee Rev. Tom Fowle, but later Jane Austen returns to the subject of Mr. Lefroy in the closing of the letter on Friday evening: “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.” Austen then goes right back into family and news of neighbors so again it’s hard to tell if she is being serious or taking on a tone of the mock dramatic for her sister.
All cites to: Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th edition, collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye, Oxford University Press, 2011.