April 2011 Meeting: Jane Austen’s letters, 1807-1809

Prepared by member Jenny … thanks Jenny.

Jane Austen’s letters “have received little whole hearted praise even from idolators of the novels” according to Chapman who edited the second edition of her letters in 1932. (The first was by Lord Brabourne in 1884, and the most recent one by Deidre Le Faye in 1995)

The seven members who discussed the letters written during the time Jane was apparently revising Sense & Sensibility (although no letters exist for 1810) were impressed by:

  •   their tartness
  •   the frequent mention of nature and weather
  •   Jane’s attitude towards “my mother” – certainly lacking in warmth
  •   interesting references to money
  •   somewhat abusive comments about Lady Sonde, Miss Curling and Miss Murden.

Three passages impressed us forcibly:

  • The compassionate imaginative description Jane made of Edward Knight and his family after the death of his wife, Elizabeth – “I see your mournful party in my mind’s eye under every varying circumstance of the day… Letter 59. One member thought it was so powerful it could have been a scene from a novel.
  • The fire in the Southampton bakery was remarkably colourful as well as tragically amusing with the victims losing more “perhaps from ignorance or plunder than the fire”. Valuable china was “thrown down anywhere” and the nearby shopkeeper “so scared from his sense that he was giving away all his goods … to anybody who would take them.”
  • We were concerned for brother Charles who apparently took a small French prize (privateer) laden with sugar only to lose contact with it in a storm. Did he ever find it again?

However we were all very pleased to read that Jane, at a dance 15 years on from a previous one in the same place, found herself on reflection “quite as happy” as she had been before.

Since the purpose of the letters was to exchange news – most of which was exceedingly trivial (especially when you don’t know the people concerned) – Jane’s powers were rarely given an opportunity to shine. However to condemn the letters as a certain H.W. Garrod did as “a desert of trivialities punctuated by the occasional oasis of clever malice” seems to be going to far. Chapman concluded that “Ten years of intimacy has raised rather than lessened my regard” (for the letters). Only time will tell with us.

The meeting concluded with a brilliant quiz of quotes from our quizmaster who confounded us consistently.

 Other business:

  1. Possibility of a speaker from ANU who has been involved in editing and proofreading certain editions of Jane Austen‘s novels.
  2. Offer from JASA of any help JASACT might like. Members are invited to put forward ideas, for discussion at a later meeting.
  3. Recommendation from a member of Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England, a book by Amanda Vickery and a TV series shortly coming out on DVD.
  4. Recommendation of another book by the same author, titled The Gentleman’s Daughter: Women’s Lives in Georgian England.
  5. There were four apologies from members. Some members may have been involved with the Jane Austen Festival which was held the same weekend as our meeting.

Next meeting

We will next meet on May 21, at our usual venue. The topic will be  “Travels with Austen, with particular reference to Chawton Cottage“.


One Response to April 2011 Meeting: Jane Austen’s letters, 1807-1809

  1. Arti says:

    Hi there Whisperinggums and Janeites in Canberra,

    Just for fun and a good discussion topic, I’ve a Jane Austen Poll up on Ripple Effects. The Question: Which Jane Austen Heroine was Jane most like? You all are welcome to cast your vote and see what others have chosen.

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