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.

 

 

 

 

 

Letter to Cassandra Sat. 17-Sunday 18 November 1798 — an update on Tom Lefroy.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.