Per the notes there is a letter missing here between–Saturday October 27th and Sunday the 28th and this letter — the notes also state the manuscript of this particular letter — is untraced since its first publication, possibly sold via auction/sale in 1893.
In the back and forth with writing to her older sister Cassandra who is at Godmersham in Kent, Jane Austen seems to be filling her in and updating her on their mother’s health issues at home in Steventon, “my mother has had no relapse, and Miss Debary comes.” Again the notes clarify, Miss Debary is to help manage the parsonage while Mary Lloyd was giving birth/having her baby.
Austen next delves into Mrs. Austen’s recent improvements, “She was able to sit up nearly eight hours yesterday and to-day I hope we shall do as much.” The notes/commentary here state here there were edits or redactions made by Cassandra and later by Lord Bradbourne who inherited it, and likely sold this letter by auction. It is unknown why — I’m presuming perhaps it was a bit of wicked wit regarding her mother’s care-taking that Cassandra censored because Austen wrapped it up with, “So much for my patient — now for myself.” There is no way to know though.
Austen then relays news about a recent visit from Mrs. Lefroy and an update on Tom Lefroy — often thought to be the inspiration for Mr. Darcy or perhaps some of her other main male characters or love interests. Apparently Austen was hitting a bit of a wall with his aunt, but Mr. Austen got the update after all, “She did not once mention the name of the former to me, and I was too proud to make any enquiries; but on my father’s afterwards asking where he was I learnt that he was gone back to London in his way to Ireland, where he is called to the Bar and means to practise.” (Underline annotation and spelling are Austen’s own.)
Jane Austen’s interest is prevalent as she continues to tell Cassandra quoting via third party a recent letter Lefroy sent to his aunt about the Austen family, “‘I am very sorry to hear of Mrs. Austen’s illness. It would give me particular pleasure to have an opportunity of improving my acquaintance with that family — with a hope of creating to myself a nearer interest. But at present I cannot indulge any expectation of it.'”
Austen seems very particular to be “quoting” Tom’s letter to his aunt — although it’s really uncertain if his aunt, Mrs. Lefroy was really being honest about what Tom wrote or not.
The meaning here via Austen’s own interpretation seems to be he liked the family, but could not visit again and did not want to say he was going to try again–or for all purposes he did not want to get anyone’s hopes up, etc.
Apparently, Jane Austen took Mrs. Lefroy mostly at her word, and writing to Cassandra to confirm, “This is rational enough; there is less love and more sense it it than sometimes appeared before, and I am very well satisfied.”
Perhaps Austen was recounting a sort of release to her older sister, in confirming that Tom would not return so she was certain whatever small time frame of a relationship they had together was certainly now over. “It will all go exceedingly well, and decline away in a very reasonable manner.”
And I’m sort of moved by Austen’s use of the words “decline away.” I’m presuming she is talking about their attraction and feelings that developed only to lapse with the reality of their living situations and perhaps feeling that she held stronger feelings for him, “There seems no likelihood of his coming into Hampshire this Christmas, and it is therefore most probable that our indifference will soon be mutual, unless his regard, which appeared to spring from knowing nothing of me at first, is best supported by never seeing me.”
Austen here seems to be accepting of a couple of things: 1) that perhaps she misread Tom Lefroy’s feelings for her as not being as strong as her feelings for him, or 2) he indeed had feelings for her that were soon dismissed or discarded when he learned of her background and he is not going to visit or tempt himself with a visit to see her.
Continues to tell Cassandra, that his aunt didn’t really help soothe her feelings on the subject, “Mrs. Lefroy made no remarks on the letter, nor indeed say anything about him as relative to me. Perhaps she thinks she has said too much already.”
Austen here is playing it over and over a bit in her mind — perhaps missing her older sister terribly in trying to maybe talk out her feelings or misgivings about them via this letter. The rest of Mrs. Leroy’s visit relays nephews and notes about family and mutual friends, before changing the subject.
Seems like Austen is being a little bit cheeky here to her sister, “My mother desires me to tell you that I am a very good housekeeper, which I have no reluctance in doing, because I really think it my peculiar excellence, and for this reason — I always take care to provide such things as please my own appetite, which I consider as the chief merit in housekeeping.”
Jane Austen continues the letter with household news, butchering, upcoming balls, the purchase of a post-chaise carriage, and also she is liberally sarcastic regarding news around Mary Lloyd’s preparing for child-birth, her health, nursing and other issues. There is an edge here in the domestic litany with an undertone of wit — again I think an understanding of relationship and private sayings between sisters.
Austen continues asking about their nephew George, and despite all the local and household news including the birth of a new nephew James-Edward Austen — mainly think this letter was really giving Cassandra the news about Tom Lefroy and her confirmation that she is never to see him again.
Once again back to the notes, the letter that follows this one is also possibly missing. Overall Austen’s feelings or misgivings about Tom seem to weigh heavily on her.
All notes to: Jane Austen’s Letters, Fourth Edition, Collected and Edited by Deirde LeFaye, Oxford University Press, 2011.