Letter from Cassandra Austen to Fanny Knight, 29 July 1817

Text by Deirdre Le Faye, Editor of Jane Austen’s Letters and author of another eleven books about Jane Austen

Jane had died in the dawn hours of 18th July 1817, at No. 8 College Street, Winchester, where she and her sister Cassandra had been lodging; and, as was the custom of the time, before the coffin was closed Cassandra cut off several locks of her hair for family mementos.   She was buried in the north aisle of Winchester Cathedral early in the morning of 24th July, and in this letter of 29th July Cassandra tells her niece Fanny Knight about the funeral, and asks her how she would like the lock of hair to be mounted.  Fanny’s reply, a few days later, was that she would like the lock of hair set in an oval brooch, with pearls, bearing Jane’s name and the date of her death.

During the autumn of 1817 Cassandra together with her brother Henry arranged for the publication of Jane’s two remaining completed manuscripts – Northanger Abbey and Persuasion – which appeared in December of that year.   For the rest of her life, until her own death in 1845, Cassandra cherished Jane’s letters and her other manuscripts – the short story Lady Susan and the unfinished The Watsons and Sanditon – and then divided and bequeathed them amongst her nieces and nephews.

Twenty years after Jane’s death, in 1837, Cassandra’s niece Anna Lefroy, and Anna’s teenage daughter Fanny-Caroline, visited Chawton Cottage to stay with their aunt; and Fanny-Caroline never forgot the way in which Cassandra spoke of her long-dead sister: ‘… there was such an accent of living love in her voice.’

This object was purchased in 2015 with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Friends of the National Libraries.