Letter from Jane Austen to Cassandra Austen 27-28 October 1798

Object name: Letter from Jane Austen to Cassandra Austen, written Saturday 27th – Sunday 28th October 1798.

Object number: CHWJA:JAHLTR48

Category: Letter

Description: Letter from Jane Austen at Steventon to Cassandra Austen at Godmersham (Letter 10 in The Letters of Jane Austen edited by Deirdre Le Faye, Oxford University Press, 4th edition, 2011).  The letter is headed ‘Steventon Saturday Oct: 27th’. Two leaves of foolscap, laid and watermarked.  Red seal.  Postmarked ‘OC 29 98 OVERTON’.

Made: Saturday 27th – Sunday 28th October 1798

Context: In the August of 1798, Rev. and Mrs Austen, accompanied by Jane and her sister Cassandra, made their first recorded visit to Godmersham Park, the new home of Jane’s third brother Edward and his family.  On 24th October, Jane and her parents returned home but Cassandra stayed behind to help her sister-in-law Elizabeth following the birth of her fifth child, William.

This letter was written by Jane to Cassandra the weekend following her return to Steventon.  The letter begins by recounting the journey home during which Mrs Austen had been quite unwell and was to remain so for some weeks, which required Jane to become both housekeeper and nurse:

‘I had the dignity of dropping out my mother’s Laudanum last night, I carry about the keys of the Wine & Closet; & twice since I began this letter, have had orders to give in the Kitchen…’

The letter offers a brief insight into the marriage of Jane’s elder brother James and his second wife Mary Lloyd. Mary at the time is eight months pregnant with their first child but it seems James was not always on-hand:

‘James seems to have taken to his old Trick of coming to Steventon inspite of Mary’s reproaches, for he was here before Breakfast, & is now paying us a second visit.’

In comments which were clearly intended for Cassandra’s eyes only, Jane demonstrates her wicked, biting, wit when relating some items of domestic and local news:

‘Mrs Hall of Sherbourn was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, oweing to a fright.  I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband.

Dame Bushell washes for us only one week more, as Sukey has got a place. John Steevens’ wife undertakes our Purification; She does not look as if anything she touched would ever be clean, but who knows?’

Cassandra remained at Godmersham until March 1799.  This letter is the second in a series of ten extant letters from Jane to her sister written during that period.

Credit: Received as part of Arts Council England’s Cultural Gifts scheme, Acceptance in Lieu (2022)

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