Jane Austen Book Sleuth, Jane Austen's Letters, Jane Austen's Life & Times, Jane Austen's Works

4th Edition of Jane Austen’s Letters Due Out in November

Jane Austens Letters, edited by Deirdre Le Faye, 4th Edition (2011)Exciting news for Janeites! Deirdre Le Faye’s incredible scholarship on Jane Austen and her family continues in this new edition of Jane Austen’s Letters.

Many will be thrilled to learn that this 4th edition not only includes a new cover, but updates! Here is the description from Oxford University Press:

Jane Austen’s letters afford a unique insight into the daily life of the novelist: intimate and gossipy, observant and informative–they read much like the novels themselves. They bring alive her family and friends, her surroundings and contemporary events, all with a freshness unparalleled in modern biographies. Most important, we recognize the unmistakable voice of the author of such novels as Pride and Prejudice and Emma. We see the shift in her writing from witty and amusing descriptions of the social life of town and country, to a thoughtful and constructive tone while writing about the business of literary composition.

R.W. Chapman’s ground-breaking edition of the collected letters first appeared in 1932, and a second edition followed twenty years later. A third edition, edited Deirdre Le Faye in 1997 added new material, re-ordered the letters into their correct chronological sequence, and provided discreet and full annotation to each letter, including its provenance, and information on the watermarks, postmarks, and other physical details of the manuscripts. This new fourth edition incorporates the findings of recent scholarship to further enrich our understanding of Austen and give us the fullest and most revealing view yet of her life and family. In addition, Le Faye has written a new preface, has amended and updated the biographical and topographical indexes, has introduced a new subject index, and had added the contents of the notes to the general index.

Teachers, students, and fans of Jane Austen, at all levels, will find in these letters remarkable insight into one of the most popular novelists ever.

“These are the letters of our greatest novelist. They give glances and hints at her life from the age of 20 to her death at 41, the years in which she wrote her six imperishable books.”

–Claire Tomalin, Independent on Sunday

Features

  • An unparalleled and irresistible insight into the life of Jane Austen
  • A complete and accurate transcript of all Austen’s letters as known to date
  • Integrates the discoveries of recent Austen scholarship to reveal more about her life and family
  • 2011 marks the bicentenary of the publication of Sense and Sensibility, the first of Austen’s novels to appear in print

About the Author

Deirdre Le Faye , now retired, worked for many years in the Department of Medieval & Later Antiquities at the British Museum. She started researching the life and times of Jane Austen and her family in the 1970s, and since then has written several books about them, the latest being A Chronology of Jane Austen and her Family 1600-2000 , as well as numerous articles in literary journals.

The bit that really got my attention was the incorporation of new scholarship and a new preface. Huzzah!

Jane Austen’s Letters, edited by Deirdre Le Faye
Oxford University Press (2011)
Hardcover (688) pages
ISBN: 9780199576074ISBN10

Due to be released on 1 November 2011

Jane Austen Inspired, Jane Austen's Letters, Jane Austen's Life & Times, Jane Austen's Works

Penelope Hughes-Hallet, Author of My Dear Cassandra Succumbs at 82

My dear Cassandra, Where shall I begin? Which of all my important nothings shall I tell you first? – Jane Austen, June 15, 1808

Two years ago I purchased the lovely illustrated volume My Dear Cassandra by Penelope Hughes-Hallet (1990). Inspired by Jane Austen’s close relationship with her sister Cassandra, it is chockablock full of her letters embellished with beautiful Georgian and Regency-era color illustrations of landscapes, portraits and buildings mentioned in her correspondence. Sadly, the book is out of print, but can still be purchased online through book dealers at Amazon and Advanced Book Exchange. It was also issued under The Illustrated Letters of Jane Austen in 1996. It is a treasure trove of information on the era and a wonderful glimpse into two famous sister’s correspondence.

On April 1 of this year, Penelope Hughes-Hallet passed away at age 82. Born Penelope Fairbain in London in 1927, she spent her early childhood at Patience Close in Steventon, Hampshire (formerly known in Austen’s time as Glebe Farm). Since Steventon was also Jane Austen’s town of birth, we can imagine that the famous authoress’ life permeated her early life and later inspired her interest in the Regency-era leaving us with four fascinating books, two of which are richly illustrated editions: My Dear Cassandra (1990) and Home at Grasmere: The Wordsworths and the Lakes (1994). Her final book was a novel The Immortal Dinner (2000) inspired by the 1817 dinner-party given in London by the painter Benjamin Haydon whose guests included poets Wordsworth and Keats, author Charles Lamb and other significant men arts and science of the day. It received high praise from critics when it was released and is on my to be read list.

Regretfully, as in many cases with living authors who wish to remain in the background, there was very little information about Hughes-Hallet online when I researched her when I purchased the book. Her obituary in the Telegraph online fills in quite a bit more than we usually see for a minor author and is written with reverence and personal insight, almost like it was from a family member or personal friend. Though it answers my questions about her life and career, I am still craving more sumptuous illustrated editions and clever prose from this author. I think I am so drawn to her work and life because I admire her choices, enthusiasm, perspective and legacy. She seems to have had it all. Raised in Steventon, married with a lovely family and her final years as a respected author. Life does not get much better. R.I.P.

My Dear Cassandra, or The Illustrated Letters of Jane Austen is one of my favorite editions in my Austen library. Please seek it out and take a gander. You will not be disappointed.

Book Reviews, Jane Austen's Letters, Jane Austen's Life & Times, Nonfiction

Jane Austen Selected Letters (Oxford World’s Classics) – A Review

Jane Austen Selected=“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. Continue reading “Jane Austen Selected Letters (Oxford World’s Classics) – A Review”

Jane Austen's Letters, Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen's Works

Austen at Large: Jane Reads Pride and Prejudice to Miss Benn – the luckiest woman in the world

Pride and Prejudice first edition (1813)I have been reading Austen’s letters this week that have to do with Pride and Prejudice, and in them I have found a very intriguing story. When Pride and Prejudice was first published, Jane and her mother read the story aloud over several nights to Miss Benn who was dinning with them. Jane read the first half one night, and her mother read the second half on another evening. In letters to her sister Cassandra on 29 January 1813 and then again on 4 February 1813, Jane Austen explains…

Miss Benn dinned with us on the very day of the Books coming, & in the evening we set fairly at it & read half the first volume to her – prefacing that having intelligence from Henry that such a work would soon appear we had desired him to send it whenever it came out – & I believe it passed with her unsuspected.

I don’t know if Miss Benn knew how lucky she was. It is slightly unclear whether Miss Benn ever knew that Jane Austen was the author or not, but I got the impresTitle page from a first edition of Pride and Prejudice (1813)sion that at least at first she didn’t. What a lucky lady! Who would not kill to have Jane Austen read the part of Mrs. Bennet or Elizabeth? It would have been a truly magical experience.

Miss Benn was the younger sister of the Reverend John Benn who was the rector of Farringdon. She was unmarried and living in very poor circumstances in Chawton, close to the Austen’s. She dined with them frequently, as we can see in some of Jane’s letters and is often remembered by Cassandra who gave her a gift of a shawl. Though she was a very poor ‘old maid’, I think she has an enviable situation because she got to hear Jane Austen read Pride and Prejudice aloud.

Jane Austen also writes about Miss Benn’s enjoyment of the novel. “She was amused, poor soul! That she could not help you know, with two such people to lead the way; but she really does seem to admire Elizabeth.” Then we get to the famous quote about Jane Austen’s view of Elizabeth saying…

I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print & how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know.”

The second night of reading did not go over as well as the first because Jane writes in the February 4th letter remarking, “I had had some fits of disgust.” Miss Benn was again at the second reading for Pride and Prejudice but Jane tells Cassandra of some problems with their mother’s reading of the novel. She says, “I believe something must be attributed to my Mother’s too rapid way of getting on.” I can just imagine Mrs. Austen rushing through one of Jane’s favorite passages and how annoying that would have been to her. I am sIllustration of a morning dress from La Belle Assemblee (1813)ure she had specific voices in her head for characters and specific ways that conversations would have happened, but Mrs. Austen must not have been doing the best job. Jane explains to Cassandra, “& though she perfectly understands the characters herself, she cannot speak as they ought. Upon the whole however I am quite vain enough & well satisfied enough.”

We can only imagine what it would have been like to be a fly on the wall that evening and what a great thing it must have been. To hear Jane Austen read her own beloved characters the day that she received the text in the mail, whoa! I can only dream in my head how wonderfully witty that would have been. (NOT ANYTHING LIKE THE READING IN THE MOVIE BECOMING JANE AT THE VERY END!!! ) She must have been thrilled, exuberant, excited and yet able to conceal it all from Miss Benn who did not know that Jane was the author, and how lucky she was to be hearing the first reading of the newly published Pride and Prejudice. If only there was such a thing as a time machine, I would go back to that night just to be a fly on the wall.

Until next week,

Virginia Claire

Virginia Claire, our Austen at Large roving reporter is a college student studying English literature and history who just returned from her time studying abroad in Bath England and working as an intern at the Jane Austen Centre. She is the Regional Coordinator of JASNA North Carolina and a lifelong Janeite. She will be sharing her thoughts on all things Austen this semester and remembering her travels in Austenland.

Further reading 

Jane Austen's Letters, Jane Austen's Works

Jane Austen’s Letters: What a bit of pewter will supply

Illustration from Ackermann's Repository, a Walking Dress (1817)My Dearest 

The parcel arrived safely, & I am much obliged to you for your trouble. It cost 2 shillings 10 but as there is a certain savings of 2 shillings 4 ½ on the other side, I am sure it is well worth doing. I send 4 pair of Silk Stockings but I do not want them washed at present. In the 3 neckhandfs, I include the one sent down before. These things perhaps Edward may be able to bring, but even if he is not, I am extremely pleased with his returning to you from Steventon. It is much better – far preferable. I did mention P.R. (Prince Regent) in my note to Mr. Murray, it brought me a fine compliment in return; whether it has done any good I do not know, but Henry thought it worth trying. The Printers continue to supply me very well, I am advanced in vol. 3 to my arra-root, upon which peculiar style of spelling, there is a modest query in the Margin. I will not forget Anna’s arrow-root. I hope you have told Martha of my first resolution of letting nobody know that I might dedicate &c for fear of being obliged to do it & that she is thoroughly convinced of my being influenced now by nothing but the most mercenary motives. I have paid nine shillings on her account on her account to Miss Palmer; there was no more owing. Well, we were very busy all yesterday; from ½ past 11 to 4 in the Streets, working almost entirely for other people, driving from Place to Place after a parcel for Sandling which we could never find, & encountering the miseries of Grafton House to get a purple frock for Eleanor Bridges. Letter to Cassandra, 26 November 1815 from Hans Place, London 

1815 were heady times for Jane Austen. Her novel Emma had been accepted for publication by John Murray, one of the most important and influential publishing houses in London. She would be in fine company with Sir Walter Scott, Washington Irving, Lord Byron, George Crabbe (her personal favorite) and many others on Murray’s roister of prestigious authors. She had learned that the Prince Regent so admired her first three novels that he would endorse her new effort by allowing her to dedicate it to him. Though she did not agree with this lifestyle, she did not decline the honor, knowing full well what the publicity and sales would generate. “…but tho’ I like praise as well as anybody, I like what Edward calls Pewter too.”(Letter to Cassandra, 30 November 1814). Even though she has book royalties coming in, she is still keenly aware of how much a shilling is worth! 

You can feel her energy and confidence in her letters of this period. As a spinster, she was dependent on her family for financial support. Emma would be her fourth novel to earn her ‘pewter’, and even though it would be published at her expense, she would realize the profits after the payment of a 10 percent commission was paid to Murray. [1] With money coming in and further recognition of her talent, she was experiencing a bit of pride and self-assurance in her life. In this letter to her sister Cassandra from her brother Henry’s residence of Hans Place in London, we see her bustling about town to purchase or collect items for neighbors and family, and a few niceties for herself. The bit about the 4 pairs of silk stockings always makes me smile. It pleases me to think of Jane Austen able to purchase such a luxury items from her own hard earned funds and so concerned over their care. Silk does shrink when you wash it! 

Reading her letters brings her life closer to heart. Even the smallest enjoyment of silk stockings, or her kindness in running errands for her in-law Eleanor Bridges, who was the wife of a Baronet and far richer than Austen would ever be, is enchanting. I can just envision her calling at Grafton House, a stylish linen-drapers on New Bond Street to collect Mrs. Bridges frock, and being amazed at the choice of the color purple. One can only imagine what she had to say to her sister Cassandra in private over her color choice! Oh what a bit of pewter can supply! 

Further reading 

1. David Gilson, A Bibliography of Jane Austen, 2nd ed., Oak Knoll Press, New Castle, Delaware (1997) pp 67

Vintage flourish urn

Jane Austen's Letters, Victorian Authors

Sarah Chauncey Woolsey an admirer of Jane Austen

Image of Sarah Chauncey WoolseyIt would have excited in her an amused incredulity, no doubt, had any one predicted that two generations after her death the real recognition of her powers was to come. Time, which like desert sands has effaced the footprints of so many promising authors, has, with her, served as the desert wind, to blow aside those dusts of the commonplace which for a while concealed her true proportions. She is loved more than she ever hoped to be, and far more widely known. Sarah Chauncey Woolsey, Jane Austen’s Letters (1892). 

This quote is from the preface to Jane Austen’s Letters: Selected from the Compilation of her Great Nephew, Edward, Lord Brabourne (1892) by the famous American children’s author Sarah Chauncey Woolsey. As the editor, she selected about seventy eight of the original ninety six letters from the 1884 English edition and wrote the insightful short preface praising Austen and celebrating her recent revival. 

Like Jane Austen, Woolsey wrote under a pen name, was a bit forward thinking in women’s rights and never married. She greatly admired Austen’s character Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. I can feel a bit of Lizzy’s independence and wish to marry only for love in this passage from her poem Of Such As I Have

“Love me for what I am, Love. Not for sake

Of some imagined thing which I might be,

Some brightness or some goodness not in me,

Born of your hope, as dawn to eyes that wake

Imagined morns before the morning break.” 

Read Sarah Chauncey Woolsey’s complete preface to Jane Austen’s Letters (1892) in the Opinions section right here at Austenprose.

Jane Austen Inspired, Jane Austen's Letters

Jane Austen and the Modesty of Genius

I would not let Martha read First Impressions again upon any account, and am very glad that I did not leave it in your power. She is very cunning, but I saw through her design; she means to publish it from memory, and one more perusal must enable her to do it. Letter to Cassandra Austen, 11 June 1799 

Jane Austen’s Biographer Claire Tomalin has a nice article in the Guardian today about how modesty and secrecy fueled Austen’s genius. Tomalin’s bio Jane Austen: A Life was published in 1997 and is one of my favorites. It’s good to see that she is still interested in writing about Austen after the publication of her book over ten years ago. It’s a short piece, but packed full of historical nuggets of Janeisms, and centered around Jane Austen’s now famous small writing table. 

This fragile 12-sided piece of walnut on a single tripod must be the smallest table ever used by a writer, and it is where she established herself as a writer…having no room of her own, she established herself near the little-used front door, and here “she wrote upon small sheets of paper which could easily be put away, or covered with a piece of blotting paper”.  

Reading her insights made me reflect on Jane Austen’s unique writing environment, and the odds of anyone ever producing anything of merit under such restrictions. It is amazing to think that the majority of her writing and re-writing transpired on one small wooden table, and that upon her death it passed to her sister Cassandra, and then out of the family to a servant. How it made its way back to Chawton Cottage intact must be a very interesting tale indeed! 

I have not had the pleasure of seeing Jane Austen’s writing table personally, but for those of you who have made the pilgrimage, I would love to hear your story of your visit to Jane Austen’s last home in Chawton, how it felt to see her personal environment, and gaze upon the biggest little table in literary history. 

Writer Claire Tomalin is an English biographer and journalist who was educated at Cambridge University. She has written several biographies; notably Thomas Hardy (2007), Samuel Pepys (2002), The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft (1992) and Shelley and His World (1992). She is married to playwright Michael Frayn and lives in London. Of course, her most important work to date is Jane Austen: A Life!