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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

On this day in 1811. . .

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

It’s traditional to envision Jane Austen as a homebody, and this picture contains a grain of truth: She never traveled outside the British Isles, and not especially extensively within them. Still, the poor woman did get out from time to time, as we can see from the letter she finished writing to her sister, Cassandra, exactly 222 years ago today (#70 in Deirdre Le Faye’s standard edition of Austen’s correspondence).

While Cassandra visited the third-oldest Austen brother, Edward, in Kent, providing support and unpaid childcare for his eleven motherless children, the thirty-five-year-old Jane was in London visiting the fourth-oldest Austen brother, Henry. Her letter suggests the visit was lively: In the course of a few days, Jane walked around the city, visited with a host of friends and friends-of-friends, shopped for muslin and silk stockings, and anticipated an upcoming party and a trip to the theater.

At her core, however, Austen was still a novelist—that is to say, an observer of the life around her. “Mary & I . . . went to the Liverpool Museum, & the British Gallery, & I had some amusement at each,” she writes to Cassandra, “tho’ my preference for Men & Women, always inclines me to attend more to the company than the sight.”

People watching: The best part of any vacation, then and now.

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