Letter from Jane to Cassandra, 27-28 October 1798

Jane Austen was a prolific and accomplished letter writer, in all likelihood producing several thousand letters during her lifetime. Of these, however, only 161 are known to survive, as after her death her sister Cassandra destroyed many of them – both to protect both her sister’s reputation and, most probably, to protect the feelings of her friends and family.

The surviving letters are nearly all to Cassandra, Jane’s best friend and confidante throughout her life. When the two were apart they would write to each other almost daily, recording their daily activities, family news and local gossip, reflections on books and plays, and Jane’s reflections upon her own writings. As such they provide unique insights into Jane’s life and character.

Jane Austen’s House is privileged to hold 16 of these surviving letters, which are treasures of the museum collection. Here we present our latest addition, an early letter written when Jane was 22 years old, following a trip to Godmersham, her brother Edward’s home in Kent.

It is a typically chatty, gossipy letter to Cassandra, full of family matters and local news, all told with Jane’s characteristic dry humour and biting wit.

Letter from Jane to Cassandra, 27-28 October 1798

The letter begins with an account of the journey home from Godmersham, 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…’

It goes on to offer 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.’

Cassandra remained at Godmersham until March 1799, helping her sister-in-law Elizabeth following the birth of her fifth child, William. This letter is the second in a series of ten surviving letters from Jane to her sister written during this period.

This letter was presented to the Museum as part of the Arts Council’s Cultural Gifts Scheme and Acceptance in Lieu, 2022.