Letter to Cassandra Monday 24-Wed. 26, December 1798.

This letter written by Jane Austen from her home in Steventon to her older sister Cassandra, who is away visiting at their brother Edward’s Godmersham Park estate in Kent is full of family news as well as details of holiday events, plus a lot of “sisterly affection.”  This letter is a good example of the close relationship between the two sisters and their writing and sharing information with each other of their individual and daily experiences.

Austen begins this letter with news about one of the seafaring Austen brother’s Frank, with details about posts and plans of an imminent promotion with a bit of detour, “There!–I may now finish my letter, & go & hang myself, for I am I sure I can neither write nor do anything which will not appear insipid to you after this.–Now I really think he will soon be made, & only wish we could communicate or fore-knowledge of the Event, to him when it principally concerns.”  This is a little bit cryptic but I’m presuming perhaps part of the code between the sisters in sharing hopes and dreams for their brother and not wanting to jinx anything, but the intrigue continues: “Your cheif wish is now ready to be accomplished; & could Lord Spencer give happiness to Martha at the same time, what a joyful heart he would make of Yours!”  (Austen’s own spelling.)  Per the notes, Cassandra and Jane were both trying to do a bit of matchmaking here for their friend Martha Lloyd, which ironically did not take until about 30 years later.  In 1806, Frank first married Mary Gibson and had eleven children with her (six sons and five daughters).  However, Mary passed away in July 1823, and Frank married Martha in in July of 1828.

This letter then takes a turn back here, to more news of Frank, and his upcoming commission, before Austen gives Cassandra an update on Mrs. Austen, “I returned from Manydown this morning, & found my Mother certainly in no respect worse than I left here.–She does not like the cold Weather, but that we cannot help.”

From there, Austen gives Cassandra an update on her visit and the people she met, “Our Ball was very thin, but by no means unpleasant.”  Jane Austen gives her older sister a pretty good account of the meet and the greet, plus a little update on the Rev, John Calland, per the notes, Rector of Bentworth near Alton, “Mr. Calland, who appeared as usual with his hat in his hand, & stood every now & then behind Catherine & me to be talked to & abused for not dancing.–We teized him however into it last last;– I was very glad to see him again after so long a separation, & he was altogether rather the Genius & Flirt of the Evening,–He enquired after You.”  (Spelling and capitalization are Austen’s own).

Again, per the notes regarding Mr. Calland: “his attachment to his hat are well known to the Austens.”  Interesting to note, Austen’s inclusion to Cassandra of his attendance, being teased about not dancing, then peer-pressured into it and then being thought of as a “Genius” and “Flirt” of the evening.  Wondering if there was some sort of love interest here, since Austen particularly noted, that he enquired after Cassandra and she specifically relied that back to her sister.  As well as just the idea of teasing an eligible man for not dancing, perhaps this was something Austen and/or other’s did and naturally fit into the characters of her fictional work, most notably Mr. Darcy — who is later called out by Elizabeth for his past refusal to dance, when male partners were short, etc.

Austen then recounts how she danced all 20 dances, as well as noting, “My black Cap was openly admired by Mrs. Lefroy & secretly I imagine by everybody else in the room.”  This is followed by a break and a date designation of Tuesday, with the receipt of Cassandra’s letter and news from Kent: “I thank you for your long letter, which I will endeavour to deserve by writing the rest of this as closely as possible.–I am full of joy at much of your information: that you should have been to a Ball, & have danced at it & supped with the Prince.”  Per the notes, Cassandra’s ball included the attendance of HRH Major-General Prince William-Frederick of Gloucester, who was in Kent via military duties.  So Cassandra was out and about, and per the notes, Ashford is country town about 7 miles from Godmersham, and the balls were usually held at the Saracen’s Head, which was the coaching inn.

Austen continues her letter in reply with discussing wardrobe options an improvements, although right the middle of it, Austen pauses, commenting again on news from Cassandra that Edward, their wealthy brother has been ill, “Poor Edward! It is very hard that he who has everything else in the World that he can with for, should not have good health too.–”

Which leads to another update on their mother’s health, “My Mother’s Spirits are not affected by her complication of disorders; on the contrary they are altogether as good as ever; nor are you to suppose that these maladies are often thought of.–She has at times had a tendency towards another which always releives her, & that is, a gouty swelling & sensation about the ancles.”  (Austen’s own underline and spelling.)

Austen returns to her joy about Cassandra’s experience at the Ashford ball, discussions about wardrobe, repairing, repurposing and perhaps donating certain items. before noting to Cassandra, “I am glad to hear such a good account of Harriet Bridges; she goes on now as young Ladies of 17 ought to do; admired & admiring; in a much more rational way than her three elder Sisters, who had so little of that kind of Youth.”  Per the notes, the three elder Bridges sisters: “had all married straight from the schoolroom, and thereby assumed domestic and maternal responsibilities at a very early age.”  This is a little telling again, at Austen’s view of life and marriage, and marrying for love and not for domestic security.

She then returns to updating Cassandra on her activities, “I was to have dined at Deane to day, but the weather is so cold that I am not sorry to be kept at home by the appearance of Snow.”  As well as possibly lamenting some upcoming plans, “We are to have Company to dinner on friday; the three Digweeds & James.–We shall be a nice silent  party I suppose.”  The tone here tends to land a little flat, like she’s really not all that thrilled about it but duly relaying it to Cassandra.

Although this letter diverts again, “Seize upon the Scissors as soon as you possibly can  on receipt of this.  I only fear your being too late to secure the prize.”  This is followed by a bit of a cryptic update concerning Charles and efforts in what seems again, to be related to a posting and naval career issues, before Austen then sends a directive from Mrs. Austen, “My Mother wants to know whether Edward has ever made the Hen House which they planned together.”

With another nod to Martha and scheduling, Austen then concludes, but not before she apologizes to Cassandra for the inferiority of her letter, “You deserve a longer letter than this; but it my unhappy fate seldom to treat people so well as they deserve.”  The Wednesday postscript she added gives Cassandra a bit more news. “The Snow came to nothing yesterday, so I did go to Deane, & returned home at 9 o’clock at night in the little carriage–& without being very cold.–Miss Debary dines with us on friday as well as the Gentlemen.”

All cites to Jane Austen’s Letters, Fourth Edition, edited by Deirdre Le Faye, Oxford University Press, 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Letter to Cassandra Tues. 18 — Wed. 19, December 1798

Per the notes, this letter also follows several that are missing in Jane Austen’s correspondence time line.  Austen writes to her older sister Cassandra from their home in Steventon in the weeks before Christmas, and apparently Cassandra is away visiting their brother Edward at his large home Godmersham Park.  From the opening it sounds like Austen was missing Cassandra very much, “Your letter came quite as soon as I expected, and so your letters will always do, because I have made it a rule not to expect them till they come, in which I think consult the ease of us both.”

The whole, making a rule reference — sounds like Austen is trying to assure her sister she is not hanging on her every letter, which sort of reflects both her missing Cassandra and confirming again to her older sister that she knows she is busy and doesn’t expect her to write all the time.

Next item up is a reference to some sort of legal business for Cassandra, per the notes perhaps the legacy (pension) left to Cassandra by her fiancé Tom Fowle who perished en route to a position in the West Indies, and then Austen goes right into planning for winter clothes and accessories, “I shall keep my ten pounds too to wrap myself up in next winter.” (Underline by Austen.) Per the notes, the ten pounds Austen cites here may either being their Christmas allowance from her father Mr. Austen, or a gift from Mrs. Knight — their extended family member, who adopted their brother Edward as her male heir.  Continues describing a black velvet bonnet in particular, and possible changes to it and other hats, and also she seems to be asking Cassandra for input on in trying to update a hat to one similar to one fashionable at that time, per the notes references a red poppy color, or perhaps otherwise try to save them and not replace them to avoid more expense.

Austen then talks about one of their seafaring brothers, Charles, “I am sorry that our dear Charles begins to feel the Dignity of Ill-usage. — My father will write to Admiral Gambier.”  Per the notes, it seems that Charles was trying to transfer to another post/larger ship.  Apparently there are some ideas being discussed to help Charles with his situation in the Navy, plus some scheduling plans, and apparently there was a bit of a glitch going on, “I cannot approve of your scheme of writing to him (which you communicated to [p.2] a few nights ago) to request him to come hoe & convey you to Steventon. — To do you justice however, You had some doubts of the propriety of such a measure yourself.” (Underline and page cite are Austen’s own.)

This letter then goes onto the topic of their nephew George (Edward’s son aka itty Dordy), who seems to be generally regularly discussed back and forth between the sisters in their letters.  Austen has routinely sent regards to her little nephew with comments that are sort of anxious that he will forget her. “I am very much obliged to my dear little George for his messages, for his Love at least; — his Duty I suppose was only in some consequence of some hint of my favourable intentions towards him from his Father or Mother,”  (Underlines are Austen’s own.)  Austen also includes a reference to the tradition of someone having a “dish of tea” on their birthday, and again per the notes, the saucers were so large during that time period, it was deemed socially fine to drink out of it — the idea of saying a “dish of tea” was a more popular expression than a “cup of tea.”  Wrapping up discussing their nephew little George, Austen adds, “Give my best Love to him.”  Before relaying news of a morning visit by neighborhoods to Steventon, by Mr. Holder and Mr. Harwood.

Austen then informs Cassandra she received a note about a circulating library from a Mrs. Martin, which was an invitation to subscribe to her collection, “which opens the 14th of January, & my name, or rather Yours is accordingly given.”  Circulating libraries were popular during Jane Austen’s time, and they cost money to be able to borrow the books or “subscribe.” Not sure about this, I’m wondering if Cassandra would be listed as a subscriber because she is an oldest sister, or simply because Jane Austen just could not afford her own library subscription at the time, but the notes do not offer a cite or any clarification here. Austen continues in this letter, “My Mother finds the Money — Mary subscribes too, which I am glad of, but hardly expected. — As an inducement to subscribe Mrs. Martin tells us that her Collection is not to consist only of Novels, but of every kind of Literature &c &c — She might have spared this pretension to our family who are great Novel-readers & not ashamed of being so; — but it was necessary I suppose to the self-consequence of half her Subscribers.”  (Underlines and &c are Austen’s own.)

Austen doesn’t seem to really have a great opinion of Mrs. Martin,  mostly for Mrs. Martin’s pitch that she was offering more than novels in this circulating library collection.  Chiefly because during that time period, novels were sort of looked down upon as sort of lighter or trash reading. To make a comparative popular culture reference today, I guess it would be a similar social-type stigma, if someone said they only watched reality/staged television shows and nothing else what so ever.  My take on this is: 1) on one Austen seems to be saying to Cassandra that she thinks Mrs. Martin is being pretentious in advertising the library will be more diverse with different types of books and that is fine, but Mrs. Martin could have spared this pitch to the Austens because they all as she said love to read novels and I guess everyone knows this about them, but 2) then Austen acknowledges to Cassandra, perhaps Mrs. Martin is just doing a much larger sales pitch to make other people happy and get more subscribers.

After the discussion of the subscription library, Austen returns to neighborhood and family news updates relaying them all to Cassandra, including nightly rituals at Steventon in comparison to a large house like Godmersham, “We dine now at half after Three, & have done dinner I suppose before you begin — We drink tea at half after six.  I am afraid you will despise us.  — My Father reads Cowper to us in the evening, to which I listen when I can.”  Austen then sets down a series of questions to Cassandra asking her how they are passing the evenings at Godmersham, before going into an obligatory update about their mother, concerning Mrs. Austen’s health and ongoing issues.  Austen continues with updates with the Lefroy and Digweed families, close friends and neighbors, including James Digweed being kicked by a young horse and getting a nasty cut.

Then Austen circles back to her cap and situation with the current fashion with updates to hats and gowns, as well as more news and her frustration in making plans for her own travels and visits, “Perhaps I may stay at Manydown as long as Monday, but not longer.  — Martha sends me word that she is too busy to write to me now, & but for your letter, I should have supposed her deep in the study of Medicine preparatory to their removal from Ibthrop.”  Apparently having learned from Cassandra’s letter that Martha wrote to Cassandra and not here, claiming she was busy — Austen was perhaps annoyed that their dear friend Martha had not wrote back personally to her, and throws a bit of wicked slide at Martha’s being “too busy” as if Martha were a medical student — the idea and or concept which was nearly impossible during this time period.

Another visit seems to be in the works but Austen does not seem to be looking forward to it, “The letter to Gambier goes to day. — I expect a very stupid Ball, there will be nobody worth dancing with, & nobody worth talking to but Catherine; for I believe Mrs. Lefroy will not be there; Lucy is to go with Mr. Russell.”  Per the notes, most likely Jane Austen, referencing “Madame Lefroy,” her friend and mentor who died in a tragic riding accident which inspired Austen to write a memorial poem four years after her death.  Madame Lefroy was also married/a connection to Tom Lefroy, Austen’s “Irish Friend.” Per the notes, “the earliest English Lefroys were Huguenots (French Protestants cast out of France), who came to this country in the late sixteenth (16th) century and settled in Kent.” (Notes in parenthesis are my own.)

Continues to sort of lament different circumstances here to her older sister, venting a little bit perhaps about their economical situation and those of their friends in Steventon, “People get so horridly poor & economical in this part of the World, that I have no patience with them. — Kent is the only place for happiness, Everybody is rich there; — I must do similar justice however to the Windsor neighborhood.”

This is followed by telling Cassandra that two sheets of her drawing paper were given away, and Cassandra may want to restock on drawing paper when she goes to town.  Presuming here Austen means London.  Austen closes this letter by saying she has finally heard from Martha, not citing a letter and also their other Naval brother Frank, “all well, & nothing particular.”

All notes to Jane Austen’s Letters, collected and edited by Deidre LeFay, 4th edition, Oxford University Press, 2011.

 

Sarah Emsley at Mass. JASNA

Today, I attended a wonderful lecture by author and scholar, Sarah Emsley at the Mass. JASNA meeting in Boston.  The lecture was titled: “Beautiful Cassy: Jane Austen’s Niece in Nova Scotia” — centering on Charles, Jane Austen’s younger brother and one of the Austen brother’s who spent his life and career in the Navy.  Charles met and fell in love with a young woman, named Fanny in Bermuda — an interesting story unto itself.  Cassy was their daughter, and she was named for Jane Austen’s older sister, Cassandra (Cassandra was also her godmother), and Cassy was baptized in Halifax.  There were some wonderful photographs and a comprehensive history to go along with the lecture about Cassy, Fanny and Charles, as well as a little about Frank, another Austen brother and career Navy man, who later visited Halifax. As well as this Boston connection concerning one of the Austen nephews via his marriage to a girl from Nova Scotia, whose Loyalist parents fled Boston during and/after the Revolutionary War.  Plus, we got a bit of a preview of her upcoming novel as well.  It was all very interesting, and it was lovely to meet and chat with her for a little bit afterwards.  For more information or to read her articles about Austen, and other projects, you can visit her website at:  www.sarahemsley.com

 

Letter to Cassandra Saturday 1-Sunday 2 December 1798

This letter from Jane Austen writing from Steventon to her older sister Cassandra still away at their brother’s house Godmersham, per the notes, follows another that is missing. Austen begins her letter updating and filling in Cassandra about their brother Frank and his recent correspondence with details of his naval service assignments, also warning that with recent changes–correspondence from Frank may become more difficult: “Frank writes in good spirits, but says that our correspondence cannot be so easily carried on in the future as it has been, as the communication between Cadiz and Lisbon is less frequent than formerly.  You and my mother, therefore, must not alarm yourselves at long intervals that may divide his letters  I address this advice to you two as being the most tender-hearted of the family.”

There is also the requisite updating of Cassandra of their mother, Mrs. Austen’s healthy and ailments: “My mother made her entree into the dressing room through the crowds of admiring spectators yesterday afternoon, and were all drank tea together for the first time these five weeks.”

Adding also that a surgeon (per the notes), Mr. Lyford visited: “Mr. Lyford was here yesterday; he came while we were at dinner, and partook of our elegant entertainment.”

Here I think a good serving of Austen’s wicked wit: “He wants my mother to look yellow and to throw out a rash, but she will do neither.”

Austen then recounts her visits to the Lloyds at their home Deane — updating Cassandra with a tangent as well on how she personally felt about the whole process of pregnancy, child birth and recovery, noting about Mary Lloyd: “Mary does not manage matters in such a way as to make me want to lay in myself.  She is not tidy enough in her appearance; she has no dressing gown to sit up in; her curtains are all too thin, and things are not in that comfort and style about her which are necessary to make such a situation an enviable one.”  Following with a bit of news about the household, their cousin Eliza (that they have no news), and a little update neighborhood news/prospective marriages before delving into hair and wardrobe: “I find great comfort in my stuff gown, but I hope you do not wear yours too often.  I have made myself two or three caps to wear of evenings since I came home, and they save me a world of torment as to hair-dressing, which at present gives me no trouble beyond washing and brushing, for my long hair is always plaited up out of sight, and my short hair curls well enough to want no papering.”

And back again to her witty relay of neighborhood news and updates, including: “Charles Powlett gave a dance on Thursday, to the great disturbance of all his neighbours, of course, who, you know, take a most lively interest in the state of his finances, and live in hopes of his being soon ruined.”

This follows with an update about a new maid hired at Steventon and on Sunday she adds a section where Mr. Austen sends a little cheeky message about their brother Edward’s pigs, perhaps in the vein of keeping up with the times: “and desires he may be told, as encouragement to his taste for them, that Lord Bolton is particularly curious in his pigs, has had pigstyes of a most elegant construction built for them, and visits them every morning as soon as he rises.”  Per the notes, a reference to Lord Thomas Orde Bolton of Basingstoke.

All notes/cites to: Jane Austen’s Letters, Collected and Edited by Deirdre Le Faye, Fourth Edition, Oxford University, 2011

 

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.