The letters cover a period of 21 years and are filled with the minutiae of everyday life. Like so many of Jane Austen’s characters, she and Cassandra spent a lot of time away from the family home, visiting for instance the homes of other members of the family, caring for sick relatives or on purely pleasurable visits to London and Bath. The letters that Jane sent Cassandra then, when they were apart, are filled with family news, local gossip, descriptions of new gowns, and details of balls attended.
“There were twenty dances and I danced them all, & without any fatigue. I was glad to find myself capable of dancing so much & with so much satisfaction as I did; - from my slender enjoyment of the Ashford Balls (as Assemblies for dancing) I had not thought myself equal to it, but in cold weather & with few couples I fancy I could just as well dance for a week together as for half an hour.” (Letter to Cassandra Austen 1798)
I think had there been say fifty pages of such letters – they would have been just charming and interesting enough to be satisfying. However for me there was just a little too much similar content, at times I got a little bogged down by it. That is not to say that there is nothing of interest – there is – and Jane Austen’s wonderful style in itself is an absolute joy. What a marvellous letter writer she was, of course this was a time when gently brought up young women did write a lot of letters. What does shine through so beautifully though is Jane Austen’s deep affection for her sister Cassandra, and indeed her family as a whole. Little in jokes and snippets of a private language used by her and a niece, show us how important she must have been to her family. One can only guess at the loss they must have felt when Jane Austen died at just 41.
One thing I really loved however – and which there wasn’t quite enough of for me – was Jane Austen’s references to her own novels. The novels which she refers to as being her children, and that we, all these years later are still reading and talking about.
“P&P is sold. –Egerton gives £110 for it. – I would rather have had £150, but we could not both be pleased, & I am not at all surprised that he should not chuse to hazard so much.” (Letter to Mary Lloyd 1812)
One thing this collection has done for me is to make me all the more enthusiastic about re-reading the other novels. I’m pretty sure I will read one during my month of re-reading in January.