In this letter to Cassandra at Steventon, Jane Austen is writing from Rowling, where her brother Edward and his family were living at that time, before moving to Godmersham Park. Austen opens this letter, thanking Cassandra for her recent correspondence which seems to have been both newsy and entertaining for her, “I could die of laughter of it, as they used to say at school.”
Delving next into scheduling, “… we have been very near returning to Steventon so early as next week.” But Jane Austen quickly details that these plans have changed, as her brother Henry will be the delay for a visit to his physician in Yarmouth. “I am sorry for it, but what can I do?” The tone seems to pervade with some frustration toward their brother’s planning or changing of plans as she then details, Henry’s plan for a visit to his physician in Yarmouth because he was still not feeling well or recovering from an ailment, but then, noting his plan to take a leave (from the militia), to go to Godmersham for shooting. “… I shall hardly be at Steventon before the middle of that month; but if you cannot do without me. I could return, I suppose with Frank if he ever goes back.” Then noting, that Frank has been learning and is duly obsessed with “turning” a type of handicraft using a lathe to rotate metal, wood, etc. Per the notes on this letter, reference back that Austen’s brother Frank being very well versed at this type of work, similar to Austen’s character of Captain Harville in Persuasion. Austen notes near the end of the letter, Frank actually completed a burn churner for Fanny (Edward’s daughter). To note and I will repeat, there are multiple Fanny’s to keep track of in these letters and in Austen’s family/friends circle.
Continues noting a response from Cassandra to a previous letter — which isn’t specified although Austen seemed concerned and worried: “I am sorry that you found such a conciseness in the strains of my first letter. I must endeavor to make your amends for it, when we meet, by some elaborate details, which I shall shortly begin composing. Find it intriguing — was her plan to fill in Cassandra about personal life details or since she used the word “composing” was this an exchange over some type of literary work Austen was working on and incorporating or editing in after some feedback or concerns from Cassandra. Once again give a sort of heavy virtual sigh — wishing I could reach Cassandra’s side of their correspondence.
Austen quips right along talking about a new gown that wasn’t holding up well wear-wise, the weather around a Godmersham visit, and including a little bit of her wicked wit. While she may have enjoyed children once they were older, I don’t think she was particularly a fan of babies, after relaying that Edward Knight and his wife were well she added, “I have taken little George once in my arms since I have been here. Which I thought very kind.”
Skipping past to Edward’s eldest daughter Fanny and admiration of Cassandra’s beads. This is the first Fanny of this letter. Austen then includes a reference to Camilla by Burney. Austen returns to traveling, sort of rephrasing her frustration about the delays ” … I am very happy here, though I shall be glad to get home by the end of the month. Austen notes she will probably be accompanied by Miss Pearson — notes state she was the daughter of Captain Sir Richard Pearson of the Royal Navy.
Cheerfully she ribs brother Charles’ — noting his previous correspondence from Cork, which apparently resulted in his receiving two letter from his sisters. Austen then details news of what she had been doing and people she had seen — including Louisa Bridges, from a family of Baronets, Goodnestone, Kent, and also Fanny (second Fanny mentioned) or Mrs. Cage, here not Edward’s daughter/her niece, but the daughter of Edward’s brother in law Sir Brook Bridges III. Noting a visit from Lady Hales and her daughters — baronets of Bekesbourne, again with her wicked wit, “Caroline has not grown at all coarser than she was, nor Harriet at all more delicate.” Austen continues apparently responding to Cassandra’s previous correspondence regarding their visiting music master at Steventon, “I am so to hear so good an account of Mr. Charde and only fear that my long absence may occasion his relapse.” Duly notes her sister of trying to practice while away on this visit.
Now another interesting note the mention of Mary Robinson — via the notes “presumably a maid at Rowling.” One of my Bookcrossing friends, often notes how servants are never really mentioned in Austen’s novels. Only noted/mentioned as background objects, much like settings or furniture, and while I agree with her Austen doesn’t include servants/people in service as major part of her narratives, personally I think that may have been true to the contemporary style in which she was writing, that these details just were part of the tradition, canon and social structure. So really find it intriguing that Austen is including this event in her correspondence with Cassandra — from the tone it sounds like something happened with Mary Robinson, Austen tried to ask Edward and his wife about it, or get some further details, but apparently this was unsuccessful: “I have heard nothing of Mary Robinson since I have been [here]. I expect to be well scolded for daring to doubt, whenever the subject is mentioned.” Whatever when down, it seems like it was very important for Austen to keep Cassandra in the loop about it.
This letter closes with mentions of Anna’s gloves (full disclosure I’m not sure which Anna this referencing in the Austen circle, I’m presuming one of many nieces), and their mother’s handkerchief — apparently both misplaced and she was supposed to make inquiries for Anna and to look for her mother. Austen details being busy helping to make shirts for Edward, notes birds at Rowling, and again thanks Cassandra for news/accounts of Mr. Lamprey and J. Lovett–could not find these names in the notes. Again, presuming they were neighbors of some sort and Austen was responding to Cassandra’s previous correspondence/accounts of them from Steventon. All notes/cites are from: Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th edition, collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye, Oxford University Press, 2011.