Letter to Cassandra Sunday, November 1798

One of many letters sent by Austen from Steventon to her older Sister Cassandra at their brother’s Godmersham Park estate — per the notes another letter missing in between in Austen’s correspondence.  Austen starts off with a bit of wicked wit, apparently the sisters were exchanging news between Godemersham and Steventon: “I shall not take the trouble of announcing to you any more of Mary’s children, if, instead of thanking me for the intelligence, you always sit down and write to James.  I am sure nobody can desire your letters so much as I do, and I don’t think anybody deserves them so well.  Having now relieved my heart of a great deal of malevolence, I will proceed to tell you that Mary continues quite well, and my mother tolerably so.”

Austen continues on with family news including an update on their brother Henry and his commission as well as news of extended family, neighbors, her report on a very small ball, Nanny (Mrs.) Hilliard, and the Littleworths — per the notes the Littleworths were often employed as servants by the Austens at Steventon.

Gives her sister also a shopping update about items purchased from a traveling pedaler  including Irish linen, detailing amounts and quality.  She then updates her sister on their father’s reading purchase, “We have got ‘Fitz-Albini’; my father bought it against my private wishes, for it does not satisfy my feelings that we should purchase the only one of Egerton’s work of which his family are ashamed.  That these scruples, however, do not at all interfere with my reading it, you will easily believe. We have neither of us yet finished the first volume.  My father is disappointed — I am not, for I expected nothing better.”

Continues on with the literary review for her sister: “There is very little story, and what there is told in a strange, unconnected way.  There are many characters introduced, apparently merely to be delineated.”

Austen then skips over to news about Mr. Austen selling sheep and requesting some of their brother Edward’s pigs before returning to literature and books incorporating mention of a favorite poet.  “We have got Boswell’s ‘Tour to the Hebrides’, and are to have the ‘Life of Johnson’; and, as some money will yet remain in Burdon’s hands, it is to be laid out in the purchase of Cowper’s works.”  Per the notes, Burdon is probably a reference to a book seller.

The letter concludes with Austen updating her sister on her efforts at correspondence which as seemed to exhaust her although she sends a whimsical message to her nephew Edward, “so that altogether I am tolerably tired of letter-writing, and, unless I have anything new to tell you or my mother or Mary, I shall not write again for many days; perhaps a little repose may restore my regard for a pen.  Ask little Edward whether Bob Brown wears a great coat this cold weather.”

All notes/cites to Jane Austen’s Letters, collected and edited by Deirdre LeFaye, Fourth edition, Oxford University Press, 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

Literary Digression: An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James

Read Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, awhile back, and while it was well written, personally didn’t care too much for the story line.  In general, I’m not a huge fan of mysteries, but I thought I should read another one of P.D. James’ books to be fair, and I’m glad I did.  Summer reading for me is usually a little bit on the lighter side, and I recently took a few books the majority of them mysteries from a friend who inherited them from a former co-worker. They are all to be registered with Bookcrossing.com and eventually released to other members or through Little Free Libraries or other free book shelves. This was a fast read, and it was fun to read about London and Cambridge in the 1970’s–mini cooper included.

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman was published in 1972, and the lead character Cordelia Gray, has lost her mentor Bernie, and taken over his detective agency when she travels to Cambridge to see about a prospective case.  Actually Jane Austen is mentioned or referenced twice. First up in conversation between the main character Cordelia and her employer’s secretary Miss Leaming —

“When we were traveling here together you were reading Hardy. Do you enjoy him?”

“Very much. But I enjoy Jane Austen more.”

“Then you must try to find an opportunity of visiting the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.  They have a letter written by Jane Austen. I think you’d find it interesting.”

And later a reference to Pride and Prejudice

“He wasn’t particularly forthcoming but he did assure me that the boy had left voluntarily and to use his own words, his conduct while in college had been almost boringly irreproachable.  I need not fear that the shades of Summertrees would be polluted.”

P.D. James a great mystery writer and Janeite.

 

 

 

 

Letter to Cassandra Sat. 27-Sun. 28 October 1798

In this letter over a weekend, Jane Austen writes from her home at Steventon to her older sister Cassandra at Godmersham Park in Kent.  Apparently, Cassandra remained to help their sister in law with the birth of a new baby (William).

Begins by thanking Cassandra for her recent correspondence, “Your letter was a most agreeable surprize to me to day, & I have taken a long sheet of paper to show my Gratitude.”

Austen recounts the journey home to Steventon, which mostly catches Cassandra up on the health and ailments of their mother Mrs. Austen and the various remedies proscribed for these maladies, which included Laudanum and Dandelion Tea.  “We met with no adventures at all in our Journey yesterday, except that our Trunk had once nearly slipped off, & we were obliged to stop at Hartley to have our wheels greazed.”

Once home Austen details domestic tasks, “I went to Mrs. Ryders & bought what I intended to buy, but not in much perfection. — There were no narrow Braces for Children & scarcely any netting silk; but Miss Wood as usual is going to Town very soon, & will lay in a fresh stock.”

And sends her sister a dose of her wicked wit, “I bought some Japan ink likewise, & next week I shall begin my operations on my hat, on which You know my principal hopes of happiness depend. — I am very grand indeed.”

With Cassandra away at her brother’s Godmersham estate and her mother ill, Austen was pretty much running the Steventon household, “I carry about the keys of the Wine & Closet; & twice since I began this letter, have had orders to give in the Kitchen: Our dinner was very good yesterday, & the Chicken boiled perfectly tender; therefore I shall not be obliged to dismiss Nanny on that account.”  Per the notes, “Nanny” is probably a servant Mrs. Hilliard (Anne Knight),  It’s confusing there are a lot of Knights to keep track of in both the family and the neighborhood.

“Almost everything was unpacked & put away last night; — Nanny chose to do it, & I was not sorry to be busy,  — I have unpacked the Gloves & placed yours in your drawer. — Their colour is light & pretty, & I believe exactly what we fixed on.”

Proceeds to catch Cassandra up on neighborhood gossip, comings and goings, including another dose of her wicked wit, that I think was particularly intended only for Cassandra to read — before recounting the poor conditions of the roads traveling back from Kent.

Austen then comments on what seems to have been Dordy (little George) her nephew’s tidings sent via her older sister’s latest correspondence, “My dear itty Dordy’s remembrance of me is very pleasing to me; foolishly pleasing; because I know it will be over so soon.”

Next is an account of unpacking recent literary additions, “The Books from Winton are all unpacked & put away; — the Binding has compressed them most conveniently, & there is now very good room in the Bookcase for all that we wish to have there.”  The notes, did not provide any information on Winton’s per an internet search they seem to still be online shop based in England for rare and vintage books and previously were independent bookstores but the physical retail stores have now closed.  I’m not sure these bookstores go back to Jane Austen’s time, and only did a very quick online search.

And Austen then adds a commentary on her handwriting, “I am quite angry at myself for not writing closer; why is my alphabet so much more sprawling.”  This digression ends with a return to family and local news, including a visit from James Digweed, “I gave him his brother’s deputation.”  These were the papers allowing him as a tenant to go shooting at Steventon alluded to previously.

Austen includes further updates on Mrs. Bennett’s health and progress healing, “My Mother has not been down at all today; the Laudanum made her sleep a good deal, & upon the whole I think she is better; — I shall be able to be more positive on this subject I hope tomorrow.  My father & I dined by ourselves — How strange!”

Austen closes sending kisses to her brother Edward, favorite nice Fanny, little George (Dordy), and leaves off saying, “Tis really very kind in my Aunt to ask us to Bath again; a kindness that deserves a better return that to profit by it.”  Per the notes, the Aunt most likely is Mrs. Leigh-Perrot — although I find it unclear if this is wife of Mrs. Austen’s brother James. Regardless this woman was extending another invitation to visit and stay in Bath which Austen found very kind and generous.

All spellings and grammar in quotes are by Austen, retyped directly. Per the notes, this letter was sold in 1999 via auction to a private collector for 32,000 British pounds.

All notes from, Jane Austen’s Letters, Fourth Edition, Collected and Edited by Deirdre LeFaye, Oxford University Press, 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter to Cassandra — 24 October 1798

Here, Jane Austen is quite literally: “on the road again”  traveling with her parents home.

This letter was written from the Bull and George, “a coaching inn,” that was located in Dartford, Kent.  Per the notes, Dartford was originally a market town with manufacturing 19 miles southeast of London, and “the first post-town on the Dover road; now nearly part of Greater London.”

Jane Austen is reporting news, details and mishaps to her older sister Cassandra, as they traveled through Kent, starting with: “You have already heard from Daniel, I conclude, in what excellent time we reached and quitted Sittingbourne, and how very well my mother bore her journey thither.”

Two observations here: 1) the Austens had left and were returning home but Cassandra apparently stayed behind for a longer visit, and 2) Daniel via the notes, was very likely a coachman from Godmersham estate owned by Austen’s brother Edward Austen Knight (EAK),  and apparently Daniel worked for EAK for quite some time — per the notes: “possibly the Daniel Boys who was buried at Godmersham on 22 December 1835 aged 73.”

Again via the notes, — Sittingbourne is a “country town” in Kent, 46 miles southeast of London, and 16 miles from the Godmersham estate.

Mrs. Austen seems to wax and wane in her traveling and health complaints, as Austen notes about their mother: “I am now able to send you a continuation of the same good account of her.  She was very little fatigued on her arrival at this place, has been refreshed by a comfortable dinner, and now seems quite stout.”

Per previously reading the notes to these letters, and paraphrasing other Regency era references — during this time period, the word “stout” was used to convey “healthy” or “being of good general health and nourishment.”

Their visit at the country town of Sittingbourne was short: “It wanted five minutes of twelve when we left Sittingbourne, from whence we had a famous pair of horses, which took us to Rochester in an hour and a quarter; the postboy seemed determined to show my mother that Kentish drivers were not always tedious and really drove as fast as Cax.

Per the notes, Cax is probably a misprint or a misreading of Cox or Cook’s which was a coach company — running a route from Salisbury to London and back. Another example of Austen’s wicked wit here — basically writing to Cassandra about how they had a crazy-fast driver, in comparing him to the London route drivers — which I guess had a reputation for speed at the expense of safety — in any case, Cassandra I presume would have gotten the reference and or joke.

Austen’s letter then gives another update on Mrs. Austen’s well being:  “My mother took some of her bitters at Ospringe, and some more at Rochester, and she ate some bread several times.”

Apparently there were several inns located in Dartford, Kent, during the time Jane Austen visited during her travels, “but the best was the Bull (later called the Royal Victoria and Bull), opposite was a smaller establishment, the Bull and George.”

Austen then details their quarters at the Bull and George, which again was the smaller inn, located in Dartford, which she noted, resulted in some compromise, “We have got apartments up two pairs of stairs, as we could not otherwise be accommodated with a sitting-room and bed chambers on the same floor, which we wished to be.”

And then kind of a major crisis:  “I should have begun my letter soon after our arrival but for a little adventure which prevented me.  After we had been here a quarter of an hour it was discovered that my writing and dressing boxes had been by accident put into a chaise which was just packing off as we came in, and were driven away towards Gravesend in their way to the West Indies.  No part of my property could have been such a prize before, for in my writing-box was all my worldly wealth, 7l, and my dear Harry’s deputation.”  (The underline is Austen’s own notation.)

Okay so her writing box was put on the wrong coach en route to the West Indies no less.  Austen seems to be upset more about the money kept in the box, and EAK apparently had issued a letter to allow their neighbor Harry Digweed back home — giving Henry the right to shoot on the Steventon estate — so Austen was acting as a courier and transporting this official letter.

Although I think the worldly or historical impact would have been the loss of her literary work in the writing-box.  Austen seems more matter of fact — fixated on the loss of the money.  Luckily, Mr. George Nottley (via the notes could have been Knottley), the landlord of the George & Bull inn in Dartford stepped in, “immediately despatched a man and horse after the chase, and in half an hour’s time I had the pleasure of being rich as ever; they were only got about two or three miles off.”  Phew crisis avoided.  (The spelling ‘despatched’ is Austen’s own.)

Austen continues noting the journey has been pretty pleasant and goes into accounts and exchanges about the weather, and a little account about their dad via a little book and reading update, “My father is now reading the ‘Midnight Bell,’ which he has got from the library, and my mother is siting by the fire.”  The notes describe this book as: The Midnight Bell, a German  Story, Founded on Incidents in Real Life, by Francis Lathom (1798), with a reference to Austen’s Northanger Abbey, chapter six (6).  So another connection from Austin’s letter to a novel she wrote. It’s unclear though which library Austen is referring to here in this letter — thinking possibly it was from the library at Godmersham or from a lending library back at home — although I think the former is more likely as they were leaving EAK’s estate and traveling back to Steventon.

Austen closes this letter with the uncertainty of their scheduling and route home, and noting the strong opinions of the inn’s landlord which differ from the Austens, “Our route to-morrow is not determined.  We have none of us much inclination for London, and if Mr. Nottley will give us leave, I think we shall go to Staines through Croydon and Kingston, which will be much pleasanter than any other way; but he is decidedly for Clapham and Battersea.”  (The spelling ‘to-morrow is Austen’s own.)

The very last line: “God bless you all!”  And then she adds a postscript, referencing the nickname of EAK’s second son George, “I flatter myself that itty Dordy will not forget me at least under a week.  Kiss him for me.”  (The underline is Austen’s own.) Think this is a reference to why Cassandra remained, most likely to help with EAK’s children.

Addendum here per the notes, in this collection of Austen’s letters: “Letter missing here, dated Thursday 25 October 1798.”  Which denotes a missing letter in chronological order, etc.

All notes unless otherwise noted are to: Jane Austen’s Letters, Fourth Edition, Collected and Edited by Deirdre Le Fay, Oxford University Press 2011.