- Austen, Jane
- Substantial fragment of an autograph letter, to her niece Anna Lefroy (née Austen)
- ink on paper
This letter was written during a ten-day visit to London (25 November - 4 December 1814), when Jane Austen was staying with her widower brother Henry, who was then a successful banker renting a house in Knightsbridge. The main object of her visit was to meet with her publisher, Thomas Egerton, to discuss a second edition of Mansfield Park as the first edition, which been published in May, had already sold out. Jane was already well advanced with her next novel, Emma, so would have been keen to gauge her publisher's enthusiasm for her latest work. The meeting took place the day after this letter was written. Egerton did not agree to publish a second edition, so Jane and Henry began to look elsewhere; her later works (and the second edition of Mansfield Park) were published by John Murray.
Anna was the eldest daughter of Rev. James Austen, Jane's eldest brother, who had taken over as rector of Steventon when their father had retired to Bath in 1801. She and Jane had a close relationship (see previous lot). Her new husband was Benjamin Lefroy, nephew of Tom Lefroy, with whom Jane had enjoyed a flirtation as a young woman in 1795-6. The couple had courted over the summer of 1814, "passing nearly every afternoon in the shrubbery walk at Steventon much to the grievance of [Mary Lloyd], who complained that she in consequence has been shut out of it all the summer, and that she had never before seen any couple so foolishly devoted." (Fanny-Caroline Lefroy's Family History, quoted in A Family Record, p.217). They were married quietly at Steventon on 8 November 1814, then set up home with Ben's unmarried brother Edward, a lawyer living in Hendon, which was then a village several miles north-west of London.
It is hardly surprising that Jane would take the opportunity that the visit to London gave her to visit her "literary niece" for the first time since her marriage, and this engaging letter expresses her pleasure in Anna's new life. As with many of Jane Austen's letters, it gives a powerful sense of her life within an extensive familial network of immediate family, cousins, and neighbours: she is seeing three of her brothers - Edward, Henry, and Charles - during her stay, will write to neighbours about her visit to Anna, and regrets that there will not be an opportunity for Anna to read to her a letter received from a cousin ("...I am glad she has written to you. I like first Cousins to be first Cousins, & interested about each other...").
A highlight of the visit was a trip by the family group to see David Garrick's Isabella, or the Fatal Marriage, with Elizabeth O'Neill in the title role. O'Neill had debuted at Covent Garden earlier in 1814 and was then the sensation of the London stage. Jane and her siblings had an interest in the theatre stretching back to childhood performances at Steventon and she had been a keen theatre-goer during her previous visits to London. On this occasion, however, the star performance did not meet her expectations, leaving her to ponder how actual performance inevitably fell short of her imagination.
For another fragment of the same letter see next lot.