Jane Austen's Letters

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9780198117643: Jane Austen's Letters

Jane Austen's letters afford a unique insight into the daily life of the novelist: intimate and gossipy, observant and informative, they bring alive her family and friends, her surroundings and contemporary events with a freshness unparalleled in modern biographies. R W Chapman's ground-breaking edition of the Letters first appeared in 1932, and a second edition followed twenty years later. For this third edition Le Faye has added new material that has come to light since 1952, and reordered the letters into their correct chronological sequence. She has provided new biographical, topographical and general indexes, discreet annotation, and information on watermarks, postmarks and other physical details of the manuscripts. The edition has also been redesigned for ease of reading and reference.

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Review:

Jane Austen famously labeled her literary ambit a "little bit (two inches wide) of ivory." Luckily, her personal travels and those of her family were slightly more extensive, otherwise we should be without her letters. Not only should every Janeite possess them, but also every connoisseur of correspondence. Austen's wit is ubiquitous--even though some protest it edges into waspishness. E. M. Forster, for example, described the letters between Austen and her beloved sister, Cassandra, as "the whinnying of harpies."

On September 18, 1796, she tells Cassandra, "What dreadful Hot weather we have!--It keeps one in a continual state of Inelegance.--If Miss Pearson should return with me, pray be careful not to expect too much Beauty..." The dashes and capitalization alone make one long for the days before stylistic rules had so cemented. As for the sentiments! Austen paces her monologues to perfection, making the comic and ironic most out of the smallest incidents. Still, her frustration does occasionally emerge. "I am forced to be abusive," she implodes to Cassandra, "for want of a subject, having nothing really to say." Jane Austen has more than enough to say for lovers of literature and the cultural pinprick.

About the Author:


Deirdre Le Faye is Administrator at the British Museum. Her publications include Jane Austen: A Family Record, and co-author with Maggie Black of A Jane Austen Cookery Book.

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