• Deborah Yaffe

On this day in 1811. . .

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


Jane Austen was perfectly capable of writing a sensitive condolence message. The letters she wrote her brother Frank in 1805, breaking the news of their father’s sudden death, are models of the form – kind, compassionate, and thorough in answering all the questions she knew he would have.


Such is not the tone of the letter Austen wrote to her sister, Cassandra, exactly 210 years ago today (#74 in Deidre Le Faye’s standard edition of Austen’s correspondence).


Cassandra was in the midst of one of her extended visits to their brother Edward’s family in Kent, and Jane was back home in Chawton, tending to a thousand small matters. In her letter, Jane discusses the scheduling of a friend’s visit, reports on a recent dinner party, and comments on the latest war news.


And in the midst of all this – with no warning! No preparation at all! -- she brings Cassandra up to date on an unfortunate development: “I will not say that your Mulberry trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive.”


Posterity does not record whether Cassandra wept. We, however, can’t help but laugh.

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