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This letter was written by Jane Austen to her brother Francis William Austen (Frank) in July 1813 while he was serving on board HMS Elephant. In the letter Austen relays news about the family, while also mentioning her latest novels. Frank was stationed in the Baltic, and Austen writes about her interest in Sweden, expressing hope that her brother is enjoying his time in a country which she considers ‘so distinguished’.
Austen writes about the success of Sense and Sensibility (1811), every copy of which had been sold. She explains that ‘I have something in hand – which I hope on the credit of P.&P. [Pride and Prejudice] will sell well, tho’ not half so entertaining’. The ’something’ to which she is referring is Mansfield Park, which was published in 1814. Austen writes that she hopes Frank will not ‘object to my mentioning the Elephant’, and two other ships on which he served (Cleopatra and Endymion), in her novel. Like Austen’s brothers Frank and Charles, Fanny’s beloved brother, William, is a sailor in the Royal Navy.
Jane Austen was the seventh of eight children (six boys and two girls) born to the Reverend George Austen and his wife, Cassandra. Neither of the couple’s daughters married, instead living with their parents in adult life, and spending much of their time with their family. The Austen siblings had a close relationship, and in her letter Austen records her happiness at having another of her brothers, Edward, and his family nearby. She writes that ‘[w]e go on in the most comfortable way, very frequently dining together, & always meeting in some part of every day’. This state of affairs recalls the small, tightly-knit communities in her novels Emma and Persuasion.
Austen also writes about difficulties following the death of Mr Thomas Leigh, a childless relative of her mother’s. Austen says that she is ‘very anxious’ to know who will inherit Adlestrop, his estate in the Cotswolds, which she had visited several times. Problems of inheritance and its effects upon widows and children feature in many of Austen’s novels, including Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.
& dreadful Illness are taken into the account. - He very long knew that she must die, & it was indeed a release at last. - Our mourning for her is not over, or we should now be putting it on again for Mr Tho[mas] Leigh - the respectable, worthy, clever, agreable Mr Tho[mas] Leigh, who has just closed a good life at the age of 79, & must have died the possessor of one of the finest Estates in England & of more worthless Nephews & Neices than any other private Man in the united Kingdoms. - We are very anx-ious to know who will have the Living of Adlestrop, & where his excellent Sister will find a home for the remainder of her days. As yet she bears his Loss with fortitude, but she has always seemed so wrapt up in him, that I fear she must feel it very dreadfully when the fever of Business is over. - There is another female sufferer on the occasion to be pitied. Poor Mrs L.P. - who would now have been Mistress of Stenleigh had there been none of that vile compromise, which in good truth has never been allowed to be of much use to them. - It will be a hard trial. - Charles’s little girls were with us about a month, & had so endeared themselves that we were quite sorry to have them go. We have the pleasure however of hearing that they are thought very much improved at home - Harriet in health, Cassy in manners. The latter ought to be a very nice Child - Nature has done enough for her - but Method has been wanting:- we thought her very much improved ourselves, but to have Papa & Mama think her so too was very essential to our contentment. - She will really be a very pleasing Child, if they will only exert themselves a little. - Harriet is a truely sweet-tempered little Darling. - They are now all at Southend together. - Why do I mention that? - As if Charles did not write himself. - I hate to be spending my time so needlessly, encroaching too upon the rights of others. - I wonder whether you happened to see Mr Blackall’s marriage in the Papers last Jan[uary]. We did. He was mar- ried at Clifton to a Miss Lewis, whose Father had been late of Antigua. I should very much like to know what sort of a woman she is. He was a piece of Perfection, noisy Perfection himself which I always recollect with regard. - We had noticed a few months before his suc-ceeding to a College Living, the very Living which we remembered his talking of & wishing for, an exceeding good one, Great Cadbury in So-mersetshire. - I would wish Miss Lewis to be of a silent turn & rather ignorant, but naturally intelligent & wishing to learn; - fond of cold veal pies, green tea in the afternoon, & a green window blind at night.
Jane Austen’s characters are continually watching, judging and gossiping about others and, in turn, are watched, judged and gossiped about. Professor Kathryn Sutherland explores the ways in which behaviour and etiquette are closely monitored in the novels, and how characters must learn to be skilful readers of those around them.