CassandraAusten-JaneAusten(c.1810)_hiresbloh

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!

Sarah

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