In this letter, which follows one that is missing, Jane Austen writes from the Paragon in Bath to her older sister Cassandra, visiting the family of the Reverend Fowle’s in Kintbury/Newbury.
Austen’s letter contains news of their trying to find a suitable place to rent in Bath very heavy with her wit not only on the available market they are surveying but the entire process: “We now have nothing in view.–When you arrive, we will at least have the pleasure of examining some of these purifying Houses again;–they are so very desirable in size, and situation, that there is some satisfaction in spending ten minutes within them.” (Austen’s own spelling and syntax.)
Although Austen pauses early on here to convey to her sister an answer apparently to a query by Cassandra and clarifies that there is a bit of a fracas going on: “–I will now answer the enquiries in your last letter. I cannot learn any other explanation of the coolness between my Aunt & Miss Bond than that the latter felt herself slighted by the former’s leaving Bath last summer without calling to see her before she went.–It seems the oddest kind of quarrel in the World; they never visit, but I beleive they speak very civilly if they meet; My Uncle & Miss Bond certainly do.” (Austen’s own spelling and syntax.)
From the report on the “odd quarrel” Austen jumps around to news about purchases, their brother Frank, and updates on different people they are meeting in Bath and the status of these relationships. Austen seems to be displeased thus far with people not keen for outings that include a good long walk: “Our grand Walk to Weston was again fixed for Yesterday, & was accomplished in a very striking manner; Every one of the party declined it under some presence or other except our two selves & we had therefore a tete a tete; but that we should equally have had after the first two Yards, had half the Inhabitants of Bath set off with us.” (Austen’s own emphasis, spelling and syntax.)
Apparently, the fashion of gossip is being discussed between the sisters and Austen seems to detail to her sister details of what people’s reputations are via Bath gossip plus her own personal opinions: “It is the fashion to think them both very detestable, but they are so civil & and their gowns look so white & so nice (why by the bye my Aunt thinks an absurd pretension in this place) that I cannot utterly abhor them, especially as Miss Holder owns that she has no taste for Music.” (Austen’s own spelling and syntax.)
Austen returns to descriptions of the lodgings they have visited and found unsuitable and also includes her thoughts about smaller social gatherings: “We are to have a tiny party here tonight; I hate tiny parties–they force one into constant exertion.–Miss Edwards & her father Mrs. Busby and her nephew Mr. Maitland, & Mr. Livingstone are to be the whole;–and I am prevented from setting my black cap at Mr. Maitland by his having a wife & ten Children.” (Austen’s own spelling and syntax.)
Austen here also including some language here referring to her status as an aging woman in the marriage market, which seems to be a running thread along with the other updates she is conveying to her sister along with other updates including the sale of their belongings from Steventon which she seems to be frustrated and unhappy about their bookseller: “Mr. Bent seems bent upon being very detestable, for the values the books at only 70£. The whole World is in conspiracy to enrich one part of our family at the expense of another.–Ten shillings for Dodsley’s Poems however please me to the quick, & I do not care how often I sell them for as much. When Mr. Bramston has read them through I will sell them again.” (Austen’s own emphasis, spelling and syntax.)
Returning again to more social updates including fashion she writes: “When you have made Martha’s bonnet you must make her a cloak of the same sort of materials; they are very much worn here, in different forms–many of them just like her black silk spencer, with a trimming around the armholes instead of Sleeves;–some are long before, & some long all round like C. Bigg’s.” (Austen’s own spelling and syntax.)
Austen adds a postscript with more news — of fashionable people: “The Pickfords are in Bath & have called here.–She is the most elegant looking Woman I have seen since I left Martha–He is as raffish in his appearance as I would wish every Disciple of Godwin to be.” Per the notes/paraphrasing, Austen is probably referring to someone who is a devoted reader of writer William Godwin (1756-1836). This is an interesting description and I’m wondering if the Pickfords were a couple or a brother and sister duo — perhaps some sort of inspiration for the Crawfords of Sense and Sensibility?
In her closing of her postscript, Austen goes back and or ties/back to the previous tidbit about setting her cap and the joke about their new Bath acquaintance Mr. Maitland by saying: “We drink tea tonight with Mrs. Busby I scandalized her Nephew cruelly; he has but three Children instead of Ten.–” (Austen’s own spelling and syntax.)
All notes and cite stop: Jane Austen’s Letters Fourth Edition, edited and collected by Deirdre Le Faye, Oxford University Press, 2011.