Tuesday 15 May 2018

Jane Austen - The Chawton Letters

Well - I am come home from Mrs Lyson's as yellow as I went, you cannot like your yellow gown half so well as I do, nor a quarter neither. Letter to Cassandra. May 1801

Jane Austen’s letters clearly weren’t written with one eye on posterity so it’s always a slightly uncomfortable experience reading them.  As Anne Elliot ponders in Persuasion 'no private correspondence could bear the eyes of others.' This beautifully presented Bodleian Library publication is edited by Kathryn Sutherland and includes intriguing analysis of the way the letters were folded, sealed and cross-written along with examples of Austen’s exquisite handwriting. 
Austen’s letters consist largely of domestic concerns, whinges about the weather, shopping, gossip about relatives and acquaintances and then you suddenly come across a concise observation which reminds you what a great writer she was.

My favourite letter in this collection was written to Cassandra on 24th January 1813 from Chawton cottage,  Jane is reading a publication about the Military Police and Institutions of the British Empire by Captain Charles Pasley of the Royal Engineers which she was initially reluctant to receive but is completely won over by the writer's wit and style and describes him as 'the first soldier I ever sighed for.'

Of course, in 1813, Pride and Prejudice was about to be published and her growing exuberance about her 'own darling Child' is charming to read.

Planning to re-read any Austen over the summer?


Cath said...

I was thinking the other day that I hadn't reread any JA in *years*. In fact there're a couple I've never read, Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility, though I've seen films and TV dramas so am very familiar with the plots. Perhaps this summer is the time to do it. I fancy a little project...

Audrey said...

I was on a mission to re-read all six novels last year (in honor of her death anniversary) but never got to Persuasion, which is my favorite. So I still have that to look forward to. I would love to read some of her letters...I've come across other excerpts here and there and they sound delightful.

Lark said...

I've been wanting to reread Emma and Persuasion. And now I want to read this book, too. :)

Cosy Books said...

I'm always hoping to find a book of Jane's letters while out on a second-hand book scrounge, but readers don't seem to be willing to part with them. I can see why.

LyzzyBee said...

How funny, and there's me just having read and reviewed her Teenage Writings!

Vintage Reading said...

Cath, Persuasion is a good one to dip your toe in.

Audrey, oh Persuasion is wonderful, probably her best, hope you enjoy it.

Lark, nothing like Austen!

Cosy Books, I was pleased to find Elizabeth Jenkins biography of JA in a second hand book shop and I did get a volume of letters once, but nothing recently.

LyzzyBee, I will catch up with your post - her teenage writings are utterly wild, aren't they?!