Wanna Bet?

November 26, 2010 at 9:19 pm (research) (, , , )


The Preface to Jo Modert’s Jane Austen’s Manuscript Letters in Facsimile ends with this exchange:

“Soon after I began this search, a friend asked if I seriously thought that a new Austen letter would add any information to what we already know of her life. ‘No,’ I replied. (I lied — of course I can!)”

Such a thought made me think about two such letters that indeed added VITAL information to my knowledge of the lives of the writer of one, the recipient of the other: Emma’s eldest sister Augusta Smith and youngest sister Maria Smith.

Augusta’s letter (owned by Angela in Alberta) reminisced about Auguta’s thoughts, feelings and memories of being abroad, in particular of being in Rome over Easter. Letters exist about this year on the Continent, but never before was the strength of AUGUSTA’s longings made known. Without this letter, this aspect of Augusta’s personality could NEVER have been guessed!

Angela’s “Augusta letter,” one of the greatest finds this blog has yielded, also hints at a couple “mysteries”, one involving cousin Lady Elizabeth Compton (which I think I’ve solved), one involving Aunt Emma Smith (which is still in search of a definitive answer). I’ll leave discussion of those for later.

Jacky’s “Maria letter” was written by Mrs Odell — the mother of the young man who accompanied Drummond Smith on a tour to Italy, the trip 20-year-old Drummond never returned from. Letters of the period, combined with relevant pages in Mary Augusta Austen Leigh’s 1911 biography of her father, James Edward Austen Leigh, indicates that Mrs Smith — never a fan of this trip — grilled Mr Odell in a couple interviews; as well, she was the recipient of several explicatory letters. And here was Mrs Odell pleading to Maria to think twice about marrying her son?! Several reasons come to mind as to why Maria would say ‘no’ and continue to say ‘no’; important questions crop up as to why Mrs Odell would write this letter — or Maria keep this letter among the items she passed down through her family.

To echo Jo Modert: Can just one letter add information to what we already know?

You Bet It Can!

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