Lot 124
  • 124

Austen, Jane

40,000 - 60,000 GBP
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  • Austen, Jane
  • Autograph letter signed ("JA"), to her sister Cassandra,
  • ink on paper
on family affairs and local news, with a charming account of new furniture acquired for the rectory at Steventon, news of Earle Harwood, their neighbour's son then serving in the army ("...About ten days ago, in cocking a pistol in the guard room at Marcau [St Marcouf], he accidentally shot himself through the Thigh...") and currently in hospital in Gosport, with a terse account of a ball attended by her brother James when visiting Earle Harwood ("...It was in general a very ungenteel one, & there was hardly a pretty girl in the room..."), describing a quiet evening spent with friends in a neighbouring village ("...Sometimes we talked & sometimes we were silent; I said two or three amusing things, & Mr [James] Holder made a few infamous puns..."), ALSO MENTIONING THE STATE OF HEALTH OF HARRIS BIGG-WITHER, whose proposal of marriage Jane was to accept briefly in 1802, with three postscripts, the first including news of their brother Charles's capture of a Turkish ship and the second, written in the evening, describing the dramatic effects of a storm earlier in the day ("...I was sitting alone in the dining room, when an odd kind of crash startled me - in a moment afterwards it was repeated; I then went to the window, which I reached just in time to see the last of our two highly valued Elms descend into the Sweep!!!!!..."), 4 pages, with interlinear postscript added upside down to first page, 4to, Steventon, 8-9 November 1800, integral address panel and postal marks, seal tear, fold tears, professionally conserved


Jane Austen's Letters, ed. Deirdre Le Faye (1995), no. 25


Condition is described in the main body of the catalogue, where appropriate.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

"…To sit in idleness over a good fire in a well-proportioned room is a luxurious sensation…"

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.