- Austen, Jane
- Autograph letter signed ("JA"), to her sister Cassandra,
- ink on paper
A VIVIDLY DESCRIPTIVE LETTER OF JANE AUSTEN'S DAILY LIFE. Written at the age of 25 from Steventon Rectory, the only family home she had ever known, Austen writes of a deeply familiar world with a fondness marked, of course, by ironic wit. Neighbourhood and family gossip act as a window on the world at war - the son of the local squire who was injured whilst garrisoning an island off the Normandy coast; her brother's naval exploits in the eastern Mediterranean - but her focus is on the local and domestic. She gives a wonderfully detailed and precise account of the purchase of new tables for the rectory, whilst the event she describes in the most dramatic terms is a storm that has blown down trees in the rectory garden. Many of those named in the letter were longstanding friends and part of the same small community, whose lives had been deeply connected with the Austens over many years. James Digweed, for example, one of the friends mentioned in Jane's account of her quiet evening with friends at Ash Park, was a curate at Steventon who, in years past, Jane had teasingly claimed was in love with Cassandra. However the most significant reference is Jane's brief comment that "Harris seems still in a poor way, from his bad habit of body; his hand bled again a little the other day, & Dr Littlehales has been with him lately". This is the most extensive comment found in any of Austen's extant letters to Harris Bigg-Wither, whose proposal of marriage Austen accepted, then rejected, some two years after this letter was written. Bigg-Wither was the heir to a considerable estate a few miles from Steventon and his sisters were close friends of Jane and Cassandra - it would have been, in practical terms, a highly suitable match and Jane's rejection of the proposal has always been seen as a key moment in her life.
This is one of a series of letters written by Jane to her sister when Cassandra was absent from home from October 1800 through to February 1801, visiting their brother Edward (who later took the surname Knight) at Godmersham Park House, Kent. The eleven letters that survive are probably only a fragment of those Jane wrote to Cassandra during these five months. Unbeknownst to Jane, her familiar quiet existence was about to come to an end: life at Steventon was shattered just weeks after this letter was written by her father's abrupt decision to retire from the rectory in favour of his son James, and move to Bath with his unmarried daughters. Jane was distraught at the news that she would be uprooted from her home and the beloved local countryside, and she was to have a peripatetic life until she settled in Chawton in 1809.