Anna Lefroy – sister-in-law to my Emma Austen Leigh – left a fourteen-page letter, written at the behest of James Edward Austen Leigh (when he was working on the Memoir of Jane Austen), describing her memories (or lack of) of their Aunt Jane.
Anna (1793-1872), the eldest child of Jane’s eldest brother James, was certainly in a position to recall her aunt: if only she’d kept diaries or retained letters written in her youth! Her half-sister Caroline, had recourse to her mother’s diaries, those written by Mary (Lloyd) Austen, when writing up her own reminiscences.
Reading an article published by Deirdre Le Faye in 1988 (in The Review of English Studies), in which Anna’s letter was published in full, caused me to chuckle reading the first image young Anna recalled:
“I look back to the first period but find little that I can grasp of any substance, or certainty: it seems now all so shadowy! I recollect the frequent visits of my two Aunts, & how they walked in wintry weather through the sloppy lane between Steventon & Dean in pattens, usually worn at that time even by gentlewomen.”
In the course of writing, however, anecdotes slowly came back to Anna; this is one of the most delightful:
“I have been told that one of her earliest Novels (Pride & Prejudice) was read aloud (in MS of course) in the Parsonage at Dean, whilst I was in the room, & not expected to listen — Listen however I did with so much interest, & with so much talk afterwards about ‘Jane & Elizabeth’ that it was resolved for prudence sake, to read no more of the story aloud in my hearing.”
“the two years before my marriage, & the two or three years after, when we lived, as you know almost close to Chawton when the original 17 years between us seemed to shrink to 7 — or to nothing — It comes back to me now how strangely I miss her…”
- See the 1814 marriage licence of Anna Austen and Benjamin Lefroy
- Read all of Anna’s letter online (in Italian & English)