“You deserve a longer letter than this; but it is my unhappy fate seldom to treat people so well as they deserve.” Jane Austen, 24 December 1798
Jane Austen’s personal correspondence has stirred up controversy since her untimely death in 1817 at age 41. The next year her brother Henry Austen wrote in the ‘Biographical Notice of the Author’ included with the publication of her novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion that she ‘never dispatched a note or a letter unworthy of publication’. Years later, a niece Caroline Austen did not agree, ‘there is nothing in those letters which I have seen that would be acceptable to the public.’ In comparison to her published works, the letters do dwell upon ‘little matters’ of domestic life in the county, but to the patient reader we begin to understand Austen’s life and experiences beyond the minutia and realize through her clever descriptions and acerbic observations how this simple parson’s daughter became the author of novels that are so valued and cherished close to 200 years after their publication.
This reissue by Oxford University Press of their 2004 edition of Jane Austen Selected Letters is more than worthy of a second printing. Not only does it include two thirds of the known surviving letters and a thoughtful introduction by scholar Vivien Jones chronicling the history of the letters stewardship with the family, its supplemental material alone makes it an incredible value for the price. As with the other Oxford World’s Classics of Austen’s major and minor works that have been reissued this past year, it includes a brief biography, notes on the text, a select bibliography, a chronology of Jane Austen’s life, and explanatory notes. Unique to this edition, and by far the highlight are the glossary of people and places and the detailed index for quick reference.
For students and Austen enthusiast seeking a compact edition in comparison to the comprehensive and hefty Jane Austen’s Letters edited by Deirdre Le Faye, this reissue is a sleek and densely informative package. Usually I abhor abridged editions of anything, but in this instance we are given an excellent selection of letters and a lively introduction at less than a third of the price of its competitor. In this economy, I say better and better.
4 out of 5 Regency Stars
Jane Austen Selected Letters (Oxford World’s Classics)
Selected, introduced and notes by Vivien Jones
Oxford University Press, USA (2009)