First Night Design | Jane Austen Gets Drunk

1810 sketch of Jane Austen by her sister, Cassandra.

Forget the shy, retiring Jane Austen — we have her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh’s memoir of his aunt to blame for that idea — here is an extract from a letter she wrote from Steventon to her sister Cassandra on 20th November 1800, after attending a ball. Austen liked to have fun. No one who can write so amusingly and with such charming detail about life and society in her books could have led a reclusive life devoid of society.

“I believe I drank too much wine last night at Hurstbourne; I know not how else to account for the shaking of my hand to-day. […] There were very few beauties, and such as there were were not very handsome. Miss Iremonger did not look well, and Mrs. Blount was the only one much admired. She appeared exactly as she did in September, with the same broad face, diamond bandeau, white shoes, pink husband, and fat neck. The two Miss Coxes were there: I traced in one the remains of the vulgar, broad-featured girl who danced at Enham eight years ago; the other is refined into a nice, composed-looking girl, like Catherine Bigg. I looked at Sir Thomas Champneys and thought of poor Rosalie; I looked at his daughter, and thought her a queer animal with a white neck. Mrs. Warren, I was constrained to think, a very fine young woman, which I much regret. She has got rid of some part of her child, and danced away with great activity looking by no means very large. Her husband is ugly enough, uglier even than his cousin John; but he does not look so very old. The Miss Maitlands are both prettyish, very like Anne, with brown skins, large dark eyes, and a good deal of nose. The General has got the gout, and Mrs. Maitland the jaundice. Miss Debary, Susan, and Sally, all in black, but without any stature, made their appearance, and I was as civil to them as their bad breath would allow me.”

As a descendant on her mother’s side (Leigh), it is that same sense of humour I like to think I’ve inherited! My favourite sentence is the last one. But then it’s so hard to choose. Who can resist “She appeared exactly as she did in September, with the same broad face, diamond bandeau, white shoes, pink husband, and fat neck.”?

To read more of her letters, though too many were destroyed by Cassandra before Jane died, visit Letters of Note.

Take care and keep laughing!


41 thoughts on “First Night Design | Jane Austen Gets Drunk

  1. Austen’s descriptions of others was truly observant…..and oh the humour in it all….just wonderful. No question talent is inherited…..and you definitely received a lot:) Have a very Merry Christmas and a creative and peaceful new year with lots of smiles. See you in 2016. Janet:)xx

    Liked by 3 people

    1. What I have always found sad is the way she’s taught in schools because too many people grow up thinking she’s old-fashioned, boring and all Mills & Boon. Nothing could be further from the truth. All things Merry to you, Janet, and see you next year. 🙂 xxx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good morning Sarah, – do hope that you are enjoying this holiday week….in preparation for a new year hopefully filled with wonderful creativity. I totally agree with you….and sadly it is so often the case that what we are taught in school isn’t how it actually is. Austen was one of the most amazing characters…..I will be raising a glass to you on New years:)xxx

        Liked by 1 person

      1. It was bright today, but we have some seasonal family issues, so the smile was welcome today. Too much to detail on a blog, but enough to turn Christmas on its head. (step-children/partners etc.)

        I’m sure that you are a very nice bitch though, Sarah! xx

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Fantastic descriptions indeed. It’s quite clear from her writing that she knew how to have fun, and how to see the funny side of things. Yes, evidently the talent runs in the family.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I can see it now, Teagan – you, me and Jane drinking a rich but delicate red round a table at Sally’s and laughing like drains. We’d have to include Alicia at A Small Press Life as she’s also related to Jane, on the Austen side! Huggy Christmas! xx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love her style. I feel the same way about Dostoyevsky and his descriptives. They create a sense fondness for even the most despicable or unworthy sort of person. They SAW people through and through.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. How wonderful! I didn’t know you were related. I’ve been reading your other posts to learn about the link. I love the letter, especially that last line.
    But there’s something wrong with the dates – it says she wrote it in 1880.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a wonderful letter! She’s portrayed as being so shy and retiring as you say, but her writing is far too witty for her to have really been like that – as this letter shows. How great to be related to her!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love this insightful and blistering critique: She appeared exactly as she did in September, with the same broad face, diamond bandeau, white shoes, pink husband, and fat neck. She was certainly a master of detail and description! Great article, Sarah.

    Liked by 1 person

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