Letter to Cassandra, Sunday 2 June 1799; 13 Queen Square–Bath.

This letter follows one that is missing in the chronology of Austen’s correspondence.  Here she is writing to her older sister Cassandra in Stevenson from hBath, “I am obliged to you for two letters, one from Yourself & the other from Mary, for of the latter I knew nothing till on the receipt of Yours yesterday, when the Pigeon Basket was examined & I received my due.–”

Austen dives into business first, as for shopping and receiving what seems to be a reply to an order for certain wardrobe and latest fashionable clothing items from Bath: “I will lay out all the little judgment I have in endeavouring to get such such stockings for Anna as she will approve;–but I do not know that I shall execute Martha’s commission at all, for I am not fond of ordering shoes, & at any rate they shall have flat heels.”  (Austen’s own spelling.)  So apparently, not a fan of the shoe shopping.  Duly she returns to the themes of shopping and fashion, as well as shoes later in this letter.

First, this letter proceeds with updates first on their brother with a dose of her wicked wit, “What must I tell you of Edward?–Truth or Falsehood?–I will try the former & you may cause yourself another time.”  Seems she is being a bit cheeky here, but then gives an update, as it seems Edward has been somewhat ill from their travels or adjusting to the visit in Bath and is now recovering and taking part in some of the local activities, “He was better yesterday than he had been for two or three days before, about as well as while he was at Steventon–He drinks at the Hetling Pump, is to bathe tomorrow & try Electricity on Tuesday;–he proposed the latter himself to Dr. Fellowes, who made no objection to it, but I fancy we are all unanimous in expecting no advantage from it.”  The notes does not offer any details and so presuming here that “electricity” is some sort of a curative that is a bit of a long shot, or is well known generally not too be really effective.

Hard to say at this point, if Austen is having a good stay or not on this short-term visit to Bath, along with a scheduling update: “At present I have no great notion of our staying here beyond the Month.–I heard from Charles last week; they were to sail on wednesday.”  (Austen’s own capitalization.)

And onto with a very quick update on Mrs. Austen’s health which seems to always be a required part of her letters to Cassandra: “My Mother seems remarkably well.”  Before adding, “My Uncle overwalked himself at first & can now only travel in a Chair; but is otherwise is very well.”

Austen then returns to clothing and wardrobe matters and the letter includes a short sketch of lace, “My Cloak is come home, & here follows the pattern of its’ lace.”  (Austen’s own capitalization and punctuation.)  Again there is a discussion of money for purchasing more lace and fabric, as well as Austen’s observances and experiences shopping in Bath, as well as her describing the fashion trend of flowers and faux fruit decorating hats: “Flowers are very much worn, & Fruit is still more the thing.–Eliz: has a bunch of Strawberries, & I have seen Grapes, Cherries, Plumbs & Apricots–There are likewise Almonds & raisins, french plumbs & Tamarinds at the Grocers, but I have never seen any of them in hats.”  Per the notes,Tamarinds were pods from a tree native to East India and most likely the Bath shopkeeper were stocking them as a popular item in demand.

Austen then notes how much this fruit fashion trend will actually will cost to her older sister and possible bargain hunt, “A plumb or green gage would cost three shillings; Cherries & Grapes about 5 I believe–but this is at some of the dearest Shops;–My Aunt has told me of a very cheap one near Walcot Church, to which I shall go in quest of something for You.”  (Austen’s own spelling.)  “Dear” I believe in this context means expensive or costly.

Austen continues the fashion update with noting: “Eliz: has given me a hat & it is not only a pretty hat, but a pretty stile of hat too–It is something like Eliza’s–only instead of being all straw, half of it is narrow purple ribbon.–I flatter myself however that you can understand very little of it, from this description.–Heaven forbid that I should ever offer such encouragement to Explanations, as to give a clear one on any occasion myself.”  (Austen’s own emphasis and spelling.)

The discussion of hats and fashion is left off at this point, for more of a social update, although it rings a bit of her being leery of meeting new people in Bath: “I spent friday evening with the Mapletons, & was obliged to submit to being pleased in spite of my inclination.”  After a updating Cassandra on names of new acquaintances, Austen returns with including her worries about purchases and bringing them back to Steventon, “I am afraid I cannot undertake to carry Martha’s Shoes home, for tho’ we had plenty of room in our Trunks when we came, We shall have many more things to take back & I must allow besides for my packing.”  (Austen’s own emphasis, spelling and punctuation.)

Austen then returns to telling Cassandra of the activities in Bath and apparently noting a disdain for concerts or loud music: “There is to be a grand gala on tuesday evening in Sydney Gardens;–a Concert with Illuminations & fireworks;–to the latter Eliz: & I look forward with pleasure, & even the Concert will have more than its’ usual charm with me, as the Gardens are large enough for me to get pretty well beyond the reach of its sound.”  (Austen’s own punctuation.)

There is an off and off sad tone here I detect reading all of this, perhaps she is just missing her older sister, as well as a return to another fashion or wardrobe discussion this time of patterns and caps: “I am quite pleased with Martha & Mrs. Lefroy for wanting the pattern of our Caps, but I am not so well pleased with Your giving it to them.”  Seems a little upset that Cassandra has been so generous with the patterns, but then continues: “Some wish, some prevailing Wish is necessary to the animation of everybody’s Mind, & in gratifying this, You leave them to form some other which will not probably be half so innocent.”  (Austen’s own punctuation and capitalization.)  There is really no way to know if she is referring back again to Martha and Mrs. Lefroy here, or if this an extension or a return to a discussion of another issue with Cassandra, as it seems more detailed and complex — but the specifics are lost.

This is where I wish, and I’m sure certain scholars for the return of the lost letters, and perhaps to read Cassandra’s letters — in order to “read” or “hear” Cassandra’s side of their conversations and discussions.

Austen closes the letter saying she will not forget to write to their brother Frank and includes a post script about their sisterly correspondence: “My Uncle is quite surprised at my hearing from you so often–but as long as we can keep the frequency of our correspondence from Martha’s Uncle, we will not fear our own.”  Per the notes, this may be a reference to either Reverend John Craven or Reverend Thomas Fowle, but why either man would have an opinion on Jane and Cassandra’s often writing to each other is a mystery for me.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Letter to Cassandra Friday 17 May 1799 — Regency Road Trip to Bath

There is quite a gap in the collection of Jane Austen’s letters here, because the last letter in the collection was January 1799 — when Austen was writing to Cassandra who was still visiting their brother Edward and his family in Kent — anxiously wanting to know Cassandra’s return date home.  We can only presume Cassandra traveled home in March or perhaps April 1799 — for this letter picks up the time line in mid-May 1799.  And here, Austen is writing to Cassandra, now at home in Steventon.

This letter conveys another Regency road trip, Austen writes of her experience traveling with her mother, their brother Edward, Edward’s wife Elizabeth and per the notes, Elizabeth and Edward’s two eldest children Fanny and Edward Jr.

Describes the trip in stages and starting of on a good note:  “Our Journey yesterday went off exceedingly well; nothing occurred to alarm or delay us;–We found the roads in excellent order, had good horses all the way, & reached Devizes with easy 4 o’clock.”

Seems Cassandra had a fondness for certain foods, or Austen just missed her elder sister at dinner, “At Devizes we had comfortable rooms, & a good dinner to which we sat down about 5; amongst other things we had Asparagus & Lobster which made me wish for you, & some cheesecakes on which the children made so delightful a supper as to endear the Town of Devizes to them for a long time.”

There is a sort of a pause here to Cassandra, not so much about their sister-in-law but perhaps more about Austen’s own misgivings about traveling to Bath: “Poor Eliz: has had a dismal ride of it from Devizes, for it has rained almost all the way, & our first view of Bath has been just as gloomy as it was last November twelvemonth.”

Not sure if this sort of is her own fatigue from travel, but Austen seems to be noting to her sister some sort of a pause: “I have got so many things to say, so many things equally unimportant, that I know not on which to decide at present, & shall therefore go & eat with the Children.”

Relays their continued journey, notes stopping at Paragon and meeting a few acquaintances.  Again there were some issues with Jane Austin’s trunk, specifically its weight and transporting it.  Apparently, Austen was not a light packer when she traveled: “I have some hopes of being plagued about my Trunk; I had more than a few hours ago, for it was too heavy to go by the Coach which brought Thomas & Rebecca from Devizes, there was reason to suppose that it might be too heavy likewise for any other Coach & for a long time we could hear of no Waggon to convey it.”  (Austen’s own emphasis and spelling.)

Austen notes they were able to find someone to transport it, but she notes there was to be a bit of a delay: “At last however, we unluckily discovered that one was just on the point of setting out for this place–but at any rate, the Trunk cannot be here till tomorrow.”

Then jumps to the accommodations at Bath with a dose of her eye for detail and wicked wit:  “We are exceedingly pleased with the House; the rooms are quite as large as we expected, Mrs. Bromley is a fat woman in mourning, and a little black kitten runs about the Staircase.”

Details to Cassandra, all of their room assignments and gives updates about both Mrs. Austen’s and their brother Edward’s post-journey states of health:  “My Mother does not seem at all the worse for her Journey nor are any of us I hope, tho’ Edward seemed rather fagged last not & not very brisk this morning, but I trust the bustle of sending for Tea, Coffee & Sugar, & c., & going out to taste a cheese himself will do hi good,–”  (Austen’s own spelling and phrasing.)

The notes don’t elaborate, but for anyone unfamiliar I believe “fagged” here probably means tired.  And Austen’s concern seemed to be minimal.  Perhaps just caffeine withdrawal?  Seems that Austen was certain that some form of coffee and tea and breakfast would recharge their brother Edward.

Also includes concerns about the weather and updates:  “I hope it will be a tolerable afternoon; when we first came, all the Umbrellas were up, but now the Pavements are getting very white again.”

Austen then conveys the social news with it seems a little combination of both wit and  unease: “There was a long list of Arrivals here, in the Newspaper yesterday, so that we need not immediately dread absolute Solitude–& there is a public Breakfast in Sydney Gardens every morning, so that we shall not be wholly starved.”

Closes the letter with some general news, that Elizabeth had a good report about the children still home and Kent, and returns to her concerns about the trunk: “I am rather impatient to know the fate of my best gown, but I suppose it will be some days before Frances can get through the Trunk–In the mean time, I am with many thanks for your trouble in making it, as well as marking my Silk Stockings.”  Per the notes, Frank or Frances–was most like one of Edward and Elizabeth’s servants.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter to Cassandra Monday 21-Wed. 23 January 1799 — “What time in March may we expect your return in?”

Jane Austen writes again to her older sister Cassandra, who remains away visiting their brother Edward in Kent.  Per the notes, there is a letter missing here in her correspondence.  Austen though seems to be continuing an apology for an empty sheet/requiring the postage being paid for blank paper from previous letters earlier in January and perhaps the missing letter from before this one, was rather on the shorter side, because she writes joking about the charge from the local postmaster: “I will endeavour to make this letter more worthy your acceptance than my last, which was so shabby a one I think Mr. Marshall could never charge you with postage.”  (Austen’s own spelling.)

Austen then relays that her eyes are improving from her previous illness and gives an update on their brother Charles and his naval commissions, and his plans to travel to recently arrived and docked ship, “The Tamar,” which did not exactly work out.  Austen in fact sounded like she was a bit frustrated about scheduling: “I want to go with him, that I may explain the country to him properly between Canterbury and Rowling, but the unpleasantness of returning by myself deters me.”

The relaying a little bit of gossip and/or another’ lady’s opinion of the Austen men: “Martha writes me word that Charles was very much admired at Kintbury, and Mrs. Lefroy never saw anyone so much improved in her life, and thinks him handsomer than Henry.”

Austen adds on her own comments about their brother Charles: “He appears to far more advantage here than he did at Godmersham, not surrounded by strangers and neither oppressed by a pain in his face or powder in his hair.”  Austen leaves off and goes onto other subjects, but later will return to the change in Charles’ appearance.

She then includes an update family news via letter received by Mrs. Austen from their cousin Edward Cooper, details a new living and a move to Staffordshire including a good amount of Austen’s wicked wit:  “Staffordshire is a good way off; so we shall see nothing more of them till, some fifteen years hence, the Miss Coopers are presented to us, fine, jolly, handsome, ignorant girls.”  Austen then specifies the amount of the living before again summing up, and somewhat teasingly adding: “Our first cousins seem all dropping off very fast.”

Austen then jumps from family to neighborhood social news, “Our ball on Thursday was a very poor one, only eight couple and but twenty-three people in the room; but it was not the ball’s fault, for we were deprived of two or three families by the sudden illness of their neighbor Mr. Wither, who was seized that morning at Winchester with a return of his former alarming complaint.”

Continues to update Cassandra with a run down of the smaller ball and her dancing partners, as well as an update for Mr. Withers who had fallen ill: “In such a disorder his danger, I suppose, must always be great; but from this attack he is now rapidly recovering, and will be well enough to return to Manydown.”  As well as a bit of a report on their sister: “Mary behaved very well, and was not at all fidgety.  For the history of her adventures at the ball I refer you to Anna’s letter.”

Austen then shifts back to their brother Charles and apparently outfitting him for his new post, then pausing to note: “Tuesday.–Your letter has pleased and amused me very much.  Your essay on happy fortnights is highly ingenious, and the talobert skin made laugh a good deal.”

Readers here are left out of the loop.  There is no way to know what Cassandra wrote about a “happy fortnight” or two weeks, and the notes presume “talobert” is either a misreading of rabbit skin or a in-family joke.

Also in response to Cassandra’s recent letter, Austen provides a mom update: “It began to occur to me before you mentioned it that I had been somewhat silent as to my mother’s health for some time, but I thought you could have no difficultly in divining its exact state–you, who have guessed so much stranger things.”

From the tone, seems Austen’s patience with her mother’s complaints are wearing a bit thin: “She is tolerably well–better upon the whole than she was some weeks ago.  She would tell you herself that she has a very dreadful cold in her head at present; but I have not much compassion for colds in the head without fever or sore throat.”

The it’s back to domestic business, with a reference to Charles “Our own particular little brother,” resuming his travel plans and per the notes a joke and/or reference to Burney’s novel Camilla.  Before happily delegating to Cassandra, purchasing clothes while away in Kent: “I have no objection at all to your buying our gowns there, as your imagination has pictured to you exactly such a one as is necessary to make me happy.”   Austen also praises Cassandra, “You quite abash me by your progress in notting, I am still without silk.”  Per the notes, “notting” is most likely a misreading of “netting,” which was a fashionable at the time, and a process often used on clothing and accessories, and per the notes, Austen referenced netting in her novels: Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice.

Here, Austen returns to the recent changes in their brother Charles’ appearance.  Per the notes, apparently he cut his hair, as Austen refers to him as a “crop.”  In addition, the fashion of the cropped hair and losing the wigs, was it appears, a bit of a touchy subject between the siblings: “I thought Edward would not approve of Charles being a crop, and rather wished you to conceal it from him at present, lest it might fall on his sports and retard his recovery.”

Although it is difficult to know, but it definitely seems like Austen is asking for a sisterly confidence here.  Again missing letters perhaps hold the key, but apparently Edward was ill, and from afar their brother Edward (the wealthly brother), may have been upset by these changes in Charles, even if it wasn’t politically motivated.  Per the notes, “a new fashion for young men, and viewed with some disapproval since it might imply sympathy with the fashions of Republican France.”

This letter then turns to domestic talk of animals and food provisions, as well as another update on a neighborhood marriage announcement, before Austen implores her sister:  “What time in March may we expect your return in?  I begin to be very tired of answering people’s questions on the subject, and, independent of that, I shall be very glad to see you home again, and then if we can get Martha and shirk … … who will be so happy as we?”  Presuming that “Martha” is their friend Martha Lloyd — rest though a mystery.  Per the notes, it’s unclear if Cassandra or another relative struck this out, regarding Austen’s plans: “I think of going to Ilbthorop in”

But this is left as a fragment, for Austen continues noting: “Wednesday, 23rd.”  With birthday wishes to her niece: “I wish my dear Fanny many returns of this day, and receiving from her doll’s beds.”

And Austen closes this letter a final update about their brother: “I have just heard from Charles, who is by this time at Deal.  He is to be Second Lieutenant, which pleases him likewise.”  Apparently, there was a change in ship assignment as well: “He expects to be ordered to Sheerness shortly, as the ‘Tamar’ has never been refitted.”

All notes/cites to: Jane Austen’s Letters, collected and edited by Deidre Le Fay, Oxford University Press, 4th edition, 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter to Cassandra Tues. Jan. 8 — Thurs. January 9, 1799. Who is “he” and why did he want to throw her fan in the River?

For some time, before the invention of the telephone, and even long distance calling, there was something wonderful about receiving a long, newsy letter.  This moment in time has long disappeared, although it made a brief reoccurrence in the 1990’s, with the advent of email or electronic mail, when it first became a mode of communication.  Before spam, chain email, scams, phishing — many people would check their accounts hoping for a long, newsy letter via this electronic format, from people that lived far enough away that long distance calling was not possible or very infrequent.  But eventually technology in the other forms primarily social media and the invention of the cell phone soon to be the smart phone took that all away.

Here hundreds of years before the word “electronic” — Jane Austen is writing from her home in Steventon writes her older sister Cassandra visiting their brother in Kent, a post-Christmas letter full of early January news, although per the notes, this letter follows one missing in the collection of her correspondence.  Through the letter Austen states that she is feeling pretty ill, and in print documents, initially debates turning the letter over to their Mother to finish writing out for her.

This correspondence begins with Jane thanking her older sister for her latest letter, admiring her writing, “You must read your letters over five times in the future before you send them, & then perhaps you may find them as entertaining as I do.–I laughed at several parts of the one which I am now answering.”  Again, this makes me long for Cassandra’s letters to read her side of their correspondence.” (Underline emphasis is Austen’s own.)

Austen starts this letter stating their brother Charles, with a worry because of an upcoming ball: “The Ball at Kempshott is this Evening, & I have got him an invitation, though I have not been so considerate as to get him a Partner.” (Underline emphasis is Austen’s own.)  This continues with some sister discussion of a possible love interest, “But the cases are different between him & Eliza Bailey, for he is not a dieing way, & therefore may be equal to getting a partner for himself.”  (Spelling is Austen’s own.)

Austen acknowledges relaying a previous incorrect date for the ball and is full on pushing back with her wicked wit: “Elizabeth is very cruel about my writing Music;–& as a punishment for her, I should insist upon always writing out all hers for her in the future, if I were not punishing myself at the same time.”

Which diverts into a comment about their brother Edward, “I am tolerably glad to hear of Edward’s income is so good a one–as glad as I can at anybody’s being rich besides You & me–& I am thoroughly rejoiced to here of his present to you.”  Austen seems to be happy to hear Edward made some sort of a monetary gift to her older sister, then discusses her attire for the ball and other wardrobe issues, which includes a “Mamlouc cap,” which per the notes, was very much Egyptian inspired fashion of the time.

The next item she tackled was an upcoming visit to their Cooke cousins, which again per the notes, Cassandra may have censored to protect these relatives from the harsh if not wicked wit, “I assure You that I dread the idea of going to Bookham as much as you can do; but I am not without hopes that something may happen to prevent it, Theo’ has lost his Election at Baliol, & perhaps they may not be able to see company for some time.–They talk of going to Bath too in the Spring, & perhaps they may be overturned in their way down, & all laid up for the summer.”

Here, Austen notes, “I have had a cold & weakness in one of my eyes for some days, which makes Writing neither very pleasant nor profitable & which will probably prevent my finishing this letter myself.–My Mother has undertaken to do it for me, & I shall leave the Kempshott Ball for her.”

Austen continues joking in writing about the Wither family: “Mary grows rather more reasonable about her Child’s beauty, & says that she does not think him really handsome; but I suspect her moderation to be something like that of W-W-‘s Mama.”  Per the notes, a descendent of the Wither family stated via F. Awry, A Country Gentleman of the Nineteenth Century, “‘It was a custom of the Wither clan to fuss and talk a great [deal] about bad health.'”  So Cassandra, knowing the Withers, was well in on the joke.

Austen then describes the attendance at the event, “Catherine has the honour of giving her name to a set, which will be composed of two Withers, two Heathcotes, a Blackford, & no Bigg except herself.”  (Spelling is Austen’s own.) Per the notes, Austen again is writing a bit of an inside joke with writing about “the set” for her sister about the house party in naming everyone as Catherine is technically the only Bigg, her father and brother were Bigg-Wither and her married sister the Heathcote.

Austen then reacts very pleasantly, presumably of Cassandra writing about their nephew, “My sweet little George!–I am delighted to hear that he has such an inventive Genius as to face-making.”   Apparently, their nephew was inventive using the sealing wax, “I admire his yellow wafer very much, & I hope he will chuse the wafer for your next letter.”  (Spelling is Austen’s own.)

Now there is a brief return to wardrobe or is there? “I wore my Green shoes last night & took my white fan with me: I am very glad he never threw it into the River.”  Going to pause here for a moment, as fans were often used for communication and flirting, that doesn’t puzzle me — but sounds like there is more to the story here.  Who is he, and how did he get Jane Austen’s fan?  Did she give it to him?  Was it a joke gone wrong or an argument of some sort?  Questions remain, but Cassandra is in the know and sadly we are not and there is nothing in the notes about it.

Austen does not dwell here, presumably she continues writing with Cassandra’s understanding of the fan and river reference, and revisits the subject of their brother Edward again, and Mrs. Knight, “Mrs. Knights giving up the Godmersham Estate to Edward was no such prodigious act of Generosity after all it seems for she has reserved herself an income out of it still;–this ought to be known, that her conduct may not be over-rated.–I rather think Edward shows the most Magnanimity of the two, in accepting her Resignation with such Incumbrances.”  (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)  Seems to be commenting on the transition of Edward’s formal taking over the estate as well as Mrs. Knight’s yearly annuity of two thousand pounds which he must pay, but more so on their public and private personas and actions around this matter, which seems to be an ongoing issue of concern of the sisters for their brother.  Not suggesting here that they are concerned for Edward supporting or sheltering them, although he would ultimately provide the Chawton cottage for them.

Austen continues this letter with a little update that she is feeling more and has not had to recruit Mrs. Austen just yet, “The more I write, the better my Eye gets, so I shall at least keep on till it is quite well, before I give up my pen to my Mother.”  (Austen’s own punctuation.)

And so Austen describes the ball with all of her keen observations and touches of wicked wit: “Mrs. Bramston was very civil, kind & noisy.–I spent a very pleasant evening chiefly among the Manydown party.–There was the same kind of supper as last Year, & the same want of chairs.– There were more Dancers than the Room could conveniently hold, which is enough to constitute a good Ball at any time.”

Also notes for Cassandra how much she danced with a little bit of resignation: “I do not think I was very much in request–. People were rather apt not to ask me till they could not help it.”

Austen also describes a possible missed connection: “There was one Gentleman, an officer of the Cheshire, a very good looking young Man, who I was told wanted very much to be introduced to me;– but he did not want it quite enough to take much trouble in effecting it, We could never bring it about.”  Austen seems disappointed writing to Cassandra, noting how the introduction was needed — I am presuming to have it go forward, and perhaps to dancing or conversation, but just did not happen.

Continues to update her older sister about the ball, while chiding their brother, “Charles never came!–Naughty Charles.”

Continues on with a wrap up of the ball and related news of the attendees, before Austen quips: “Miss Debary has replaced your two sheets of Drawing paper, with two of superior size & quality; so I do not grudge her of having them at all now.”

Austen then relays news of a couple of recent marriages before stating: “I do not wonder at your wanting to read first impressions again, so seldom as you have gone through it, & that so long ago.”  This is an interesting reference to early draft manuscript of what would ultimately become Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  From Austen’s letter here, it seems Cassandra it seems to have an ongoing interest in the story and wanted to read and perhaps comment on it again.

There is no dwelling on her literary work here, Austen continues the letter, going back to more perhaps troubling domestic matters: “I am much obliged to you for meaning to leave my old petticoat behind You; I have long secretly wished it might be done, but had not the courage to make the request.”

Austen includes some local, business news as well: “The partnership between Jeffreys boomer & Legge is dissolved.” This was a banking partnership in Basingstoke, although the notes, do not clarify if the Austens were personally impacted, but apparently it was big enough neighborhood news for Jane to include it to Cassandra in this letter.

Austen closes with well wishes: “I wish you Joy of your Birthday twenty times over.”  And then adds at the very end an apology: “Do not be angry with me for not filing my Sheet–” Perhaps because she was still feeling ill Austen did not use the last page of the letter entirely which was unusual because paper was so expensive, people wrote on every inch, plus per the notes, Cassandra would still have to pay the same amount of postage for an empty sheet.

All notes, cites to: Jane Austen’s Letters, collected and edited by Deidre LeFaye, Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.