Letter from Jane Austen to Cassandra Austen, 26-27 May 1801

Object name: Letter from Jane Austen to Cassandra Austen, Tuesday 26th – Wednesday 27th May 1801

Object number: CHWJA:JAHLTR2

Category: Letter

Description: Letter from Jane Austen at Paragon, Bath, to Cassandra Austen at the Rev. F.C. Fowle’s in Kintbury.  Letter 38 in The Letters of Jane Austen edited by Deirdre Le Faye, Oxford University Press, 4th edition, 2011.  The letter is headed ‘Paragon – Tuesday May 26th’. Two leaves quarto, laid and watermarked.  Mark of red wafer.  Postmarked ‘Bath’.

Made: Tuesday 26th – Wednesday 27th May 1801

Context: This is the last of the four surviving letters written by Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra in the May of 1801, immediately after the family’s move from Steventon to Bath.

Following Rev. Austen’s decision to retire and hand over the Rectory at Steventon to his eldest son James and his family, Jane, Cassandra and their parents left Steventon at the beginning of May 1801.  After a brief visit to their friends the Lloyds at Ibthorpe, Jane and her mother departed for Bath to start the search for accommodation, leaving Cassandra in Berkshire until the end of the month.

The Austens stayed with Mrs Austen’s brother, James Leigh Perrot, and his wife Jane at 1 Paragon in Bath whilst they were house hunting.  Finding appropriate accommodation that they could afford was proving difficult; Jane mentions two further properties in this letter that had proved unsuitable.  The letter also contains fairly unenthusiastic details of walks she had taken, calls she had made and evening parties she had attended, her muted tone perhaps reflecting the difficulty she was having making the transition from her familiar life in the Hampshire countryside to life in a town.

This letter is best known for its reference to the topaz crosses bought by Jane’s youngest brother Charles for his two sisters.  On Wednesday 27th May, having just returned from ‘my airing in a bewitching Phaeton & four’ she wrote to Cassandra:

‘On my return I found your letter & a letter from Charles on the table……He has received 30£ for his share of the privateer & expects 10£ more  – but of what avail is it to take prizes if he lays out the produce in presents to his Sisters.  He has been buying Gold chains & Topaze Crosses for us – he must be well scolded.’

This generous brotherly act was to have echoes in Mansfield Park more than a decade later when Fanny Price’s naval brother William buys her an amber cross.

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