Time and again I am reminded how true-to-life Jane Austen’s prose are; as well, how the Smiths and Goslings reflect the same sensibility and milieu as Austen’s best-loved characters.
Early in the weekend (for I have done a LOT of reading), I encountered this paragraph and just had to smile: Mamma Smith, Emma and little Eliza all immediately sprang to mind:
“As dinner was not to be ready in less than two hours from their arrival, Elinor determined to employ the interval in writing to her mother, and sat down for that purpose. In a few moments Marianne did the same. ‘I am writing home, Marianne,’ said Elinor; ‘had not you better defer your letter for a day or two?’
‘I am not going to write to my mother,’ replied Marianne hastily…. Elinor said no more; it immediately struck her that she must then be writing to Willoughby.” [160-161]
I don’t know if it is just the idea of passing along the same information, or giving different people the chance to write, or just reducing the cost to the recipient: but in Austen we have remarks about the UNusual: two letters written and received by ONE person:
“What a fine fellow Charles [their youngest brother] is, to deceive us into writing him two letters at Cork! I admire his ingenuity extremely, especially as he is so great a gainer by it.” [Austen letters, p. 6]
Here was a more typical outcome (like the passage in S&S) of too many willing letter-writers:
“my writing to you prevents Eliz:th writing to Harriot” [Austen letters, p. 108]
Jane is in residence with the Austen/Knights, while Cassandra is at Godnestone with Elizabeth Austen’s sister Harriot Brydges.
And here is a favorite passage in a letter from Mamma to Emma, 1825:
“Eliza has just been grumbling at me for writing this letter, I tell her Spencer will not think hers the less valuable; I had concealed it from her because she was so unwilling to write.”
Emma and Spencer were travelling with Charles, and young Eliza had drawn Spencer for a correspondent, yet wasn’t sitting down to do her duty! In a less amusing vein, comes this same thought in a letter to Augusta following Drummond’s untimely death (1832):
“I pity him [Spencer] deeply for no longer having any Brother; the three were so united … [Maria’s] first youth has been much clouded by sorrow. Fanny is rather less drooping, & she eats & sleeps better. Maria & Eliza wished to write to you, but I would not give up the turn to day to any body.”