• Deborah Yaffe

On this day in 1808. . .

Sixty-fifth in an occasional series of excerpts from Jane Austen’s letters.


You know how as soon as you return from vacation, it feels as though you’d never left? Apparently, Jane Austen was familiar with this phenomenon – or so we might conclude from the letter she finished writing to her sister, Cassandra, exactly 213 years ago today (#55 in Deirdre Le Faye’s standard edition of Austen’s correspondence).


Austen had spent the previous two weeks visiting her brother Edward’s family at Godmersham, their estate in Kent, where life was lived on a plane of luxury that was far from customary for the less affluent Austen siblings. With the end of her stay in sight, Austen – still living fulltime with her brother Frank’s family in Southampton, and a year away from the as-yet-unplanned move to the haven of Chawton cottage -- reflects on the sensual delights she will soon forego:


“In another week I shall be at home--& then, my having been at Godmersham will seem like a Dream,” she writes. “The Orange Wine will want our Care soon.—But in the meantime for Elegance & Ease & Luxury--; the Hattons’ & Milles’ dine here today--& I shall eat Ice & drink French wine & be above Vulgar Economy. Luckily the pleasures of Friendship, of unreserved Conversation, of similarity of Taste & Opinions, will make good amends for Orange Wine.”


That final sentence is telling: The material comfort of Edward’s home, filled with noisy young children and presided over by a genteel but unintellectual sister-in-law, came at a price in psychic comfort. For Austen, her ordinary life, even with all its “Vulgar Economy,” had its compensations, as she admits to Cassandra – and perhaps tries to remind herself.

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