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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

On this day in 1796. . .

Eighty-eighth in an occasional series of excerpts from Jane Austen's letters.

The British have a well-documented penchant for discussing the weather, no matter how ordinary, in exhaustive detail. (Sometimes, it appears, they do this in order to avoid talking about anything squishy, embarrassing, emotional . . . in other words, anything Americans would talk about.)

Seldom, however, does British commentary on the weather come as pithy and accurate as in the letter that the 20-year-old Jane Austen wrote to her sister, Cassandra, exactly 227 years ago today (#7 in Deirdre Le Faye’s standard edition of Austen’s correspondence).

“What dreadful Hot weather we have!” Austen wrote home to Steventon, as she wrapped up a visit to their brother Edward’s home in Kent. “It keeps one in a continual state of Inelegance.”

It’s a throwaway remark in a letter filled largely with discussion of family logistics, but it has something of the wit and economy of Austen’s novels, evoking in just a few words the sweaty, red-faced, frizzy-haired quality of a late-summer heat wave. Although fifteen more years would pass before Austen became a published author, her brilliance was already visible between the lines.


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