Selina, Lady Heathcote

March 18, 2018 at 12:15 pm (books, diaries, estates, history, jane austen, people) (, , , , )

A couple of weeks ago I got a used copy (and so reasonably priced that the shipping was only a few pounds less than the book) of The Diary of Selina, Lady Heathcote, January 1841-June 1849.

This is a slim hard-bound book, but it packs a pleasing wallop. It opens with a short introduction, with portraits of both Selina (née Shirley) and Sir William Heathcote.


William was a boyhood friend of James Edward Austen (my diarist Emma Smith’s eventual husband); they remained life-long friends – and the Austen Leighs (the ‘Leigh’ named added after the death of Edward’s great aunt, Mrs. Leigh Perrot) and their inherited estate Scarlets DO APPEAR in Selina’s diary!

An especially wonderful photograph: Selina’s open diary! Considering how “little” text takes up a manuscript page, the physical size of the diary must be about the size of those I’ve dealt with — which is as tall and as wide as the size of my hand. But the LOCK is, in comparison, SO stout!!

It was published in 1984 by IBM, which has a Hursley connection. Hursley was the Heathcote estate, and the book has a picture of that too. So it’s pleasingly illustrated, including maps showing trips the pair took.

For me, the shock was to read of the consistent ill-health of Sir William. He was older than his young second wife. He had children by his first wife, a daughter of Lord Arden – so related to the Northamptons, Lord Arden being the elder brother of Spencer Perceval, MP. So a couple of connection with my research! I’ve even seen letters (both before and after marriage) by Helena Perceval (also known as Helena Trench) (“French” in the book is a mis-transcription), who also appears in Selina’s diary, as does her daughter Maria.

William Heathcote’s mother was Elizabeth Bigg, who with her sisters – especially Althea Bigg – were great friends to Jane Austen. Mrs. Heathcote was widowed early; Althea Bigg never married. Both appear in Selina Heathcote’s diary. It was their brother, Harris Bigg-Wither (only the sons of the family took the ‘Wither’ name in addition to Bigg), who proposed to Jane Austen – who “famous” rescinded her acceptance after much thought.

Click the photo of the book cover to be whisked away to “The History of Hursley Park,” and see what Dave Key will tell you about the potential visit by Lady Heathcote to “Stratfield Saye [home of the Duke of Wellington] to meet the Queen & Prince Albert.”




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Pride & Prejudice Austen Feast

March 16, 2018 at 12:18 pm (books, jane austen) (, , , )

Devoney Looser on visiting the Margaret Herrick Library, in Beverly Hills is a MUST-READ for those who LOVE (or love to hate) the Greer Garson and Lawrence Olivier 1940 MGM film Pride and Prejudice.

I must admit, I’m a Greer Garson fan (she made some great films), and look past the fact that she and Elizabeth Bennet are farther apart in age than they should be. (Rather like overlooking her off-screen amour with her on-screen son from Mrs. Miniver.) I find Garson far more “charming” than a certain 1990s Elizabeth.

And who, after Rebecca, wouldn’t desire an Olivier-Darcy?

So I look past a lot (though haven’t seen the film in a few years; and that, I think, might have been watched via

But: back to Devoney Looser’s blog post.

It’s like a breadth from “Old Hollywood”! Especially when she’s describing the photographic stills. Had SUCH a laugh over the idea of someone masking a putto’s nakedness from the cameras! (Putto, the singular of Putti.)

Greer Garson

As to the LOVE of British actors for their tea — heard that one already from Susan Hampshire, when filming The Pallisers. Those damned big dresses get in the way when the tea passes through…

I must admit, I diverge a bit from Devoney’s thinking towards the end of her post, knowing how much TV and films are constantly “echoing” the last blockbuster or climbing aboard the current bandwagon. Lately, Primetime Game Shows, Superheroes, and lots of “extraordinary” doctors and sleuths (everybody’s got superior intelligence nowadays). Back then, it was the Cowboys and the Comedies. BUT: it’s also the era of British-literary films that made it BIG here in the States like David Copperfield (1935).

So I don’t think it so much the audiences who required some impetus for attending Pride and Prejudice (and the stage play would have helped make an audience – both for a film AND for the original novel).

pp_colin keith johnston

I think the heads of Hollywood wanted a sure-fire hit by producing the same they were used to producing, wanted a little of this and a bit of that to liven up a book they might never have read.

Let’s face it: some screen writers probably never READ Austen, and were not up to the task (and why their efforts were deep-sixed).

On a personal level, having been in Devoney’s shoes – though, with the exception of the Morgan, we’re walking into different libraries – I loved reading about the “wonderment” she experienced during her bus-trip and her entrance into the Herrick.

The post, of course, advertises her recent book, The Making of Jane Austen.

THANKS to the Facebook group “British History Georgian Lives” post by Alan Taylor, which alerted me to the Devoney Looser blog post.


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Food for Thought

March 11, 2018 at 9:52 am (books, research) (, , )

In A Guide to Documentary Editing (an online source!), by Mary-Jo Kline and Susan Holbrook Perdue, a chapter concerns “Transcribing the Source Text”. With few exceptions, I have done all transcribing myself — from tiny diaries the size of my hand to letters crossed so densely that deciphering became a real struggle.

As you might imagine, work done in the spring months of 2007 – working at the Archives (mainly, the Hampshire Record Office) with the actual documents – all the names and places were new; and Emma’s diaries (for example) mention a literal “community” of so many different people. A true “cast of thousands”.

But the one thing I’ve always been quite decided on: transcribe what you see. So I include crossings out as word(s) crossed out, insertions with an indication of what words were inserted; and I keep track of the organization on the page: be it paragraphing, pagination, crossed sections or additional correspondents on the same letter.

Obviously, I’ve gotten to know the “players” far better than I did then (ie, ten years ago).

So well do I know the main cast of characters, when someone once contacted me about a letter written to “Dear Ivy” I _really_ had no clue who the recipient might be. The letter existed only in transcription, and that done many years before, no access to the original letter by the transcriber (never mind me).

Only when another letter turned up, by which time, having read the contents, did the shoe drop: Ivy was actually Liz – which WAS a known person: Lady Elizabeth Compton. But, not knowing the people, the transcriber took the descending stroke of the last letter as a ‘y’ and the rest morphed into Ivy.

Another letter carries a similar story. This one WAS present in manuscript, but the name of the signature had been guessed at. The moment I saw the signature, the name told me exactly who it was: The woman who wished (with all her heart) that Maria Smith would consent to the marriage proposal of the woman’s son. (Which she did NOT do.)

And names are probably the HARDEST part of transcribing. A word, even if misspelled in the original, can be puzzled out; a name … unless you can track it down, an unknown name remains the longest with a question mark next to it.

signature_mary austen

So what REALLY grabbed my attention in “Documentary Editing” was the following section, before which was a discussion of keeping track of how the transcription is to be accomplished so that all transcribers do the work with the same constructs in place:

Theoretical as well as practical considerations argue for a careful record of transcription methods. Even solo editors responsible for their own transcribing are well advised to keep such a log, for transcribing sources is a learning process. As the editor-transcriber moves through the collection, he or she will inevitably learn to recognize meaning in patterns of inscription that earlier seemed meaningless or baffling. Only by keeping track of their hard-won knowledge of what matters and how it is to be translated can editors hope to be consistent or accurate. Drawing on her experience as the editor of Mary Shelley’s letters, Betty T. Bennett has suggested that “the transcription of the letters by the editor” be considered a “requisite standard” for all editors of correspondence. She points out that “the act of transcribing the letters may be one of the most valuable tools the editor has for reviewing the subject. In transcribing word after word, one comes as close to the act of writing the letters as possible and can consider words as they unfold into a thought” (“The Editor of Letters as Critic: A Denial of Blameless Neutrality,” 217).

That last section REALLY speaks to me! I’ve long said I prefer to _do_ the transcribing (which means a literal backlog of diaries and letters to do), but what a poetic way to think: that in transcribing one is close to “the act of writing the letters”.

Must admit, I’ve usually had thoughts (especially in those I struggled to decipher) more along the lines of how did they read this letter; must have been a sunny day… Or they handed it off to someone with good eyesight!

I’m luckier than most, as only in the diaries of Charles Joshua Smith (Emma’s brother, Mary’s husband) have I come across erratic spelling, contracted names and general words. Thankfully, I had just transcribed his wife’s diaries – so I had learned a lot about the family, their business, their concerns, their friends and neighbors.


Mary Smith’s neat hand

Otherwise, letters carry the usual: would, could, should, with the first letter and a superscripted (often underlined) ending ‘d’; dear often followed the same rule. Xtian for Christian. You get the drift.

One thing that struck me, back in 2007: the usage by this English family of what I (an American) would think of as “American” spelling: neighbor rather than neighbour, for instance. But the speller and the auto-correct were not fans of words like ‘chearful’ (I got into the habit of [sic] just in case the auto-correction wasn’t caught AND it told me NOT to correct it, when I later read thru the text).

This chapter, “Documentary Editing,” also mentions something of interest to Jane Austen and her editor R.W. Chapman: “For a compelling discussion of the need to remember the effect of punctuation on oral patterns, see Kathryn Sutherland’s review of Chapman’s editions of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.” This followed a section on being attentive to prior-century usage, words, phrasing, creative spellings, etc. and the need NOT to “correct” what may in fact NOT be a “mistake.” [If I find more on Sutherland’s ‘review’, I’ll put up a link.]



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Seeds of a Project: Diaries and Letters

March 5, 2018 at 4:42 pm (books, introduction, research, World of Two Teens) (, , , , )

Reading through Smith & Gosling: My Project, it dawned that this would be a good way to start talking about Two Teens in the Time of Austen, ten years later. There is so much on the blog, that it would take nearly that long for people to revisit old posts. The most salient ones do exist, in a lightly edited version, available through the Kindle Store at Amazon. (Your purchase helps fund this project!)

Over the past decade, I’ve pulled together the diaries of eight key players. Some constitute only a few years; others run nearly an entire lifetime. A few other diarists sweeten the pot. (And I’m always looking for more!)


Letters! A goldmine of information. Aided by some found in books (Jane Austen, Walter Scott, for instance), I’ve pulled together over a thousand letters, spanning the decades of the 1780s through the 1880s. Most are manuscripts.

As I’ve said elsewhere, It’s very time consuming – unearthing what’s been buried for 200 years…. 

I’m not sure which is harder – finding relevant items, obtaining primary materials, or deciphering while doing the transcription. One letter sometimes poses a new problem, while solving only a piece of an old conundrum. Still looking for MORE!

My father said, a week or two ago, “When Time Machines come into being, you can go back, meet them, tell them you’ve been reading all about them, and ask them about their lives.” The one downside of that would be: At WHAT POINT in TIME would I go back? When they’re all young, and don’t know what’s about to befall them? Or, when they’re older and can look back and remember?

I’m not sure I could pick.


Writing biography and history, of course means reading. Biography and British history; gardens and estate histories; Regency fashion to late-Victorian fashion; diaries of servants; letters of Ladies of the Manor etc. etc. (You get the drift.)

Thus, the reason you see so many BOOKS and YouTube shows. Anything that stimulates the brain. There are days, though, that I really wish I could just sit down with a copy of my own book. In the meantime, I have to be satisfied with reading such as Sherborne St. John & The Vyne in the Time of Jane Austen, by Rupert Willoughby.

sherborne st john_willoughby

To help YOU “read all about them,” I can point to a few Blog pages that I hope help.

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Zoffany’s Daughter

February 27, 2018 at 8:37 am (books, people, portraits and paintings) (, , )

A reader of my Ladies of Llangollen blog brought to my attention a new book published in Australia and the UK: Zoffany’s Daughter: Love and Treachery on a Small Island, by Prof. Stephen Foster. She described it as, “quite unusual, as it combines History, Fact, and Fiction.”


The book’s website gives an enticing introduction: “2nd July 1825: Cecilia Zoffany, daughter of a famous artist, flees to the island of Guernsey with her two young daughters, one of them disguised as a boy. Alone and distressed, the beautiful stranger seeks the help of locals in a desperate attempt to retain the custody of her children. Her estranged husband, a London clergyman, follows close behind.

Cecilia Horne is the second daughter of famed artist, Johan Zoffany. Born in 1780, she married the Rev. Thomas Horne on 27 June 1799; Zoffany painted a portrait of his father (another Rev. Thomas Horne). After eight children, the couple separated in 1821. Of course, at the time, British law gave custody of children to the father.

  • read a review, at ANZ LitLovers LitBlog
  • the book’s page
  • The Ladies Monthly Museum magazine, features news of the trial of “Mrs. Cecilia Zoffany, wife of Mr. Horne”
  • Investigate the “Rice Portrait,” possibly illustrating the young Jane Austen, which was once believed to have been painted by Zoffany

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My Dear Hamy

February 16, 2018 at 12:55 pm (books, british royalty) (, , , )

This book was reviewed in the latest JASNA News (the newsletter of the Jane Austen Society of North America) by Susan Allen Ford (the editor of Persuasions, the journal of JASNA); I’ve linked the review at the bottom, under “EXTRAS”.

My copy came via The National Archives bookshop; the author’s website is also a source for mail order. Other avenues may tell you the book is “unavailable” (, for instance).

My Dear Hamy

My Dear Hamy, by Martin Thomas, is the tale of Anne Hayman – the one-time sub-governess to Princess Charlotte of Wales. Anne Hayman’s longer role was as Privy Purse to Princess Caroline.

My Dear Hamy is a LARGE book – over 700 pages.

From the author’s website:

“This book is the story of the lives of three feisty women – Caroline and Charlotte, of the blood royal, and Anne herself, the common sensed commoner. The world was rocking on its axis as Napoleon led the French into war with Britain and Europe. But as her husband progressed from mistress to mistress and squandered a fortune on gambling and excess, Caroline’s household too rocked with hushed up scandals and indiscretions.”

Martin Thomas had access to letters written by Hayman, as well as documents by (and about) the Princess of Wales. In addition, Thomas lives in the Welsh house first occupied by Hayman in the early 19th century. That coincidence sparked his research!

I’m in the midst of reading – and enjoying – My Dear Hamy.

You can get a taste of the book by reading excerpts on the author’s site. One current online review is by Alistair Lexden.

A bit of judicious editing could have tightened the narrative, and eradicated the more egregious typos. As well, some analysis of the quoted passages from letters would have better guided the reader and, perhaps, kept the author from jumping to conclusions (without considering all possibilities) about the quite-intricate manoeuvering happening within the circle of the Prince and Princess of Wales.

Princess Caroline’s story is an oft-told one, but Hayman’s life – and her position within the Princess’ household – is an area of research which is most welcome.



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Postman Always Rings II

January 29, 2018 at 9:01 pm (books, history, World of Two Teens) (, , , )

Alan brought up the point of costs for letters in a comment to my last post (about the frequency and times of collection for the London Two-penny post in 1835). This chart comes from a 1798 diary. It mentions _new_ postal rates after the passing of an Act of Parliament (rates took effect in July of the previous year). Cost is undoubtedly _the_ reason for the existence of crossed text. If an extra piece of paper cost more, then simply put another layer of writing on the single sheet! (NB: a third layer – written diagonally – does sometimes occur.) Cost also accounts for the usage of a wrapper (another half-sheet of paper, folded around the folded-up letter) when a FRANK was used. It didn’t matter what a letter weighed when it was sent “free” thanks to the Member of Parliament’s signature.

  • What DID matter for a franked letter? That the “envelope” was written in the hand of the MP; the place and date [what you see across the top in the image below] was correct and current; and, of course, the MP’s “free” signature.

The last comment serves as a reminder: It was the RECIPIENT who paid postage. A frank, therefore, saved the recipient money rather than the sender (who sometimes went to a LOT of trouble to obtain a frank). Of course, franks should have been used only for an MP’s government-related business….

In the table, “single” refers to the single sheet of paper, folded so as to create its own envelope (perhaps the topic of another post).

free front1


Act for additional Charges on Postage of Letters, &c.

By the 37th of Geo. III. ch. 18. the following Rates for Postage shall be taken after the 5th of July, 1797, throughout England, Wales, and at Berwick upon Tweed.

For every single Letter,

                                    if not exceeding 15 miles from Office to Office – 0s 3d

                                    if above 15, and not more than 30                       – 0s 4d

                                    if above 30, and not above 60                               – 0s 5d

                                    if above 60, and not above 100                             – 0s 6d

                                    if above 100, and not above 150                           – 0s 7d

                                    if above 150                                                               – 0s 8d

                                    sent by Post within Scotland, an Addition of        – 0s 1d

N.B. Double, Treble, and Ounce Letters, pay two, three, and four times those sums.

For all single Letters to or From Portugal                                           – 1s 0d
                                         to or from British America                             – 1s 0d
N.B. The inland Postage to be added.

Single Letters to non-commissioned Officers, Privates, or Seamen   – 0s 1d

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JASNA AGM on “Persuasion”

January 24, 2018 at 1:27 pm (books, jane austen, jasna) (, , , )

For those who are JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America) members, and those have been thinking about becoming members, information for the Breakout Sessions is now up on the Annual General Meeting website. This year’s conference takes place in Kansas City, Missouri at the end of September (2018).

Some exciting and engaging papers!

The AGM’s title is “200 Years of Constancy and Hope


The themes that caught my eye:

  • “Jane Austen worked on Persuasion from August 1815 to August 1816, while she was also closely concerned with the publication and reception of Emma.” [Juliette Wells]
  • “The cancelled final chapters of Persuasion offer a glimpse of Austen transforming her own work.” [Marcia Folsom]
  • “Jane Austen’s chosen settings of the Cobb at Lyme, with the seaside and fossils, and the city of Bath… provide an underlying sense of hope and rebirth.” [Randi Pahlau]
  • “Naval portraiture both as personal mementos and markers of collective social identity.” [Moriah Webster]
  • “Although a family’s wealth generally belonged to men, the task of managing that money often fell to women.” [Linda Zionkowski]
  • “Austen’s descriptions of the Musgroves’ ancestral portraits and new furniture… allude to the era’s changing aesthetics in furnishings and clothing styles.” [Kristen Zohn]
  • “Anne Elliot struggles to believe herself deserving ….” [Mary Ellen Bertolini]

and many more!

It’s always a *thrill* to anticipate the next Annual General Meeting – Fresh thoughts on favorite novels.

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Add Jane Austen, and Ka-ching

January 7, 2018 at 8:17 pm (books, jane austen, people) (, , )

Over the weekend, looking for books once owned by Lady Frances Compton – the sister of the 1st Marquess of Northampton (Emma’s uncle), I found SEVERAL booksellers who added the JANE AUSTEN name to their posts. My Question is: WHY??

bookplate_Lady Frances

Here is Lady Frances’ bookplate. She was the daughter of an earl, and a formidable woman by the time I meet her, in the 1790s. She lived much of her early and later years in Switzerland. The early years, because her father had settled there after spending a fortune in trying to secure a parliamentary seat. The later years, it was obvious that she loved her Swiss surroundings.

I have never seen proof of any relationship between the sister of Mrs. Chute of The Vine, i.e., Lady Northampton herself, with the Austens. Her sister-in-law is even one remove farther away. So it was with EXTREME interest that I read some of these books descriptions . . . and prices.

On the low scale, of rhetoric as well as price, is an offer by Between the Covers, Rare Books, Inc:

  • Robert Bloomfield, Wildflowers; or, Pastoral and Local Poetry (1806)

“First edition. Contemporary speckled calf ruled, and spine heavily gilt. Spine rubbed, and some loss of leather at the corners, a handsome very good copy. Engraved bookplate of Lady Frances Compton on the front pastedown. Lady Frances was a friend of the Austen family and frequently visited and dined with them.” [my emphasis]

The asking price for this volume: $375

Another seller, selling an 1812 copy, without any ‘Austen’ mention is selling it for $120.

At the opposite end of the scale, with some of the most explosive, out-on-a-limb speculations, is this on offer by Arroyo Seco Books:

  • Antony Ashley Cooper [3rd Earl Shaftsbury], Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, with a Collection of Letters, 3 vols. (1790)

“Basil [Basel]: J J Tourneisen / J L Legrand, 1790. Reprint . Speckled Calf / Boards. Very Good +. 8 1/2″ Tall. (Viii), 414; (Vi), 367; (Viii), 340, + Long Index To All Volumes At End. Published 1790. Original Or Very Early Spotted Calf, 6 Spine Compartments With Two Morocco Labels On Each Volume, Gilt Decorations And Borders On Spine, Over Marbled Paper Covered Boards, Spotted Calf Tips, Light Blue Endpapers. Lightly Used, Single 1/8″ Deep X 3/16” Long Chip At Top Of Spines Of Vols 2 And 3, Hinges Solid. Bookplates Of Lady Frances Compton; She Is Noted As A Visitor To The Household By Jane Austen’s Father In The Early 1790’S. An Interesting Association As There Is Speculation That Jane Austen Used Shaftesbury As A Source For Her Ideas Of Morality. Although There Is No Evidence That Austen Had Access To A Copy Of Shaftesbury, It Is Possible That She Discussed The Ideas With Lady Compton, Or Even That This Particular Set Was Made Accesible To Her.” [my emphasis]

The asking price for this set: $2,000

Although not quite as handsome along the spine, another 3-volume set currently for sale, without the Austen wishful thinking, is selling for $175.

signature_lady frances compton

What _I_ would dearly love to hear is, When Lady Frances dined with the Austens, and Where she sat down with Jane Austen to discuss ideas

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Why are we still reading Jane Austen

December 28, 2017 at 2:23 pm (books, entertainment, jane austen, jasna) (, , , )

While looking up a few sites for the post “Walter Scott & the Shetland Islands,” I came across this EXCEPTIONALLY interesting post from H.J. Jackson at Yale Books Unbound. It is especially apropos to read it as 2017 winds to a close – 200 years after the death of Jane Austen, in 1817, and it ties in oh-so-well with the most recent JASNA AGM (Annual General Meeting, of the Jane Austen Society of North America). Our 2017 conference centered around “Jane Austen in Paradise: Intimations of Immortality.” (The conference took place at the heavenly Hyatt Regency in Huntington Beach, California.)

Jackson’s entire title is “Why Are We Still Reading Jane Austen (But not Mary Brunton)?” There must not have been room enough to include in the title “and hardly any Walter Scott.” For his early popularity pops up in the article as well.

It is Jackson’s look at two successful writers – both Scottish, as it happens – and comparing the current cool-burning flame that exists for both Brunton and Scott with the heat of Jane Austen’s fame that makes the article a damned good read.

Brunton lived nearly the same span of years as Jane Austen:

  • Jane Austen, December 1775-July 1817
  • Mary Brunton, November 1778-December 1818
  • Walter Scott, August 1771-September 1832

Jackson also comments about Austen on film; Brunton never made it to the screen and the heyday of films based on Scott novels were the heyday of Hollywood, though TV has offered a surprising number of Scott “mini-series”. I won’t count Lucia di Lammermoor et al: all those operas are too well-known!


But we all suspect that Austen mania began with Colin Firth’s Darcy – even Robert Taylor didn’t generate that kind of fervor! Unlike some readers Jackson mentions, I never came across Austen in school. DECADES later, the second I (re-)heard the theme music for the 1980s BBC production (with Rintoul, Garvey, and a great script), I knew: this was the prompt for my own purchase of an omnibus edition of Austen. So I can’t blame others for following suit, a decade later; but I can say “ENOUGH already!” to the never ending Darcy-mania. When women line up in droves to see Firth’s vacant white linen shirt, there’s a whole different fandom than for Austen and her works.

So _I_ hope, as the next hundred years since the publication of Austen novels has already gotten underway, that there will remain a serious core to the study of Austen, her life and her works. I really fear for the over-academic as well as deplore the overly-copied. It’s rather like A Christmas Carol – “done” so many times that (I personally) can’t even stand to hear the title.

But I won’t get off on a Darcy tangent… Jackson doesn’t even go there.

Jackson’s query, “What happened to Brunton — the gradual fading and extinction of her  name — could easily have happened to Austen,” is what makes the article so exciting. “Austen rapidly accumulated most of the tributes that the nineteenth century had paid to Scott (translations, adaptations, illustrations, pilgrimages) and garnered others unimagined by the Victorians, such as reenactments, academic conferences, the heritage industry, websites, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” [no comment on this last entry…]

[NB: the two things I can say against Jackson is that she forgets part of James Edward Austen Leigh’s name, when discussing A Memoir of Jane Austen, and the error of her claim that he – born in 1798 – “had never known her well.” To have known Jane Austen versus to remember stories of her fifty and sixty years later are vastly different “problems”. Even his own daughter depended on diaries and letters when writing about his life decades after his death. Most of Austen’s letters – those later published by Brabourne – were not made available to Austen Leigh.]

Jackson’s article is a short Christmas and New Year’s gift to Austen’s readership – one which offers much food for thought during these cold, dark days here in New England and elsewhere in the world.


a Jane Austen pillow


Brunton, I think, gained much by having her portrait and correspondence published – after her death, along with Emmeline, her last novel. Such “publication” (in Brunton’s case, done by her widower) seemed feared within the Austen family (although Cassandra outlived her sister by several decades).

As someone culling all the Smith & Gosling family diaries and letters that I can find, to constantly hear that Cassandra is blamed for the lack of Jane Austen letters available to posterity is difficult to bear. Where, I ask, are Cassandra’s letters!?! I dearly wish we had those. But more importantly: Cassandra would NOT have been Jane Austen’s only correspondent. So, many others could have “kept” Jane Austen’s letters…. If “posterity” wishes to blame someone, wag a finger a little harder at the niece who destroyed her father’s property, rather than at the sister to whom letters were personally addressed. They were hers, to do with as she pleased.

But I won’t go off on a long “burn correspondence vs. keep correspondence” tangent either. We all must appreciate what we have, and be thankful for the insights others give us when sharing and discussing their thoughts, their ideas.

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