The Letters Of Jane Austen, by Jane Austen
As someone who has long been interested in the writings of Jane Austen , I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at her letters, and this book was certainly a pleasant and enjoyable read on that count and probably a worthwhile work for anyone who wants to be an Austen scholar as well and engage Jane Austen in terms of the context of her personal writing and not only her novels. Admittedly, these letters are only a fragment of the letters that she wrote and they skip over the more serious parts of Jane Austen’s life. This book is a short one at 100 pages and includes 2/3 of the letters that were preserved by Jane’s sister Cassandra after her death, and while we would wish that we had more letters by Jane Austen to read and comment upon and think about, this collection is definitely a worthwhile one that is enjoyable read and those who like the sparkling wit of Jane Austen’s novels will find a great deal of biting wit to enjoy here, some of which is still savage even now, reading the letters more than 200 years later.
The letters included in this book are written in a small font, are organized in chronological fashion, and include quite a few notes from one of Jane Austen’s great-nephews, who edited the collection when Austen became a popular writer in the mid-Victorian era after having lived her life in genteel poverty and general obscurity. Although these letters are not the full spectrum of Austen’s personal writing, they do provide the reader with a thoughtful and sparkling selection of delightfully witty conversation. We see Jane Austen talking about parties and dresses and making catty comments about the men and women of her social circle, we see her be positively giddy as well as gentle and encouraging, and we see her love of wit and irony when dealing with her family. Of great interest is how we see Jane Austen as a friendly cheerleader to her relatives in encouraging their writings as well as giving them good advice on romance and relationships. One wonders if Jane Austen would have appreciated her personal and private mail being of such widespread interest centuries after she lived, but she might have been gratified that her thoughts and expressions were viewed as worth studying, since she evidently and properly thought well of her own writing as well as the people who would appreciate it most.
In reading this book, one not only gets a sense of who Jane Austen was and the society in which she lived as a fairly ordinary and even somewhat provincial person, but one also gets the feeling that she would have been a striking person in our contemporary age of social media. Given her ability to make zinging comments, she would have been absolutely on point as a fiery participant in twitter beefs, and her blog posts on why Walter Scott should stick to poetry and not deny novelists a chance at making a living would have gone viral. Although this book consists of personal mail that is two centuries old, it feels fresh because Jane Austen has the sort of wit and effervescent personality that she seems like someone we could know and like, someone who would have been a witty and enjoyable conversation partner who would have absolutely roasted those she had to suffer in being around in private and in writing after the fact. Given the small number of writings that one has from Jane Austen, all of them, like this one, certainly deserve a great deal of appreciation.
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