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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

On this day in 1813. . .

Second in an occasional series of excerpts from Jane Austen's letters:

Two hundred and two years ago today, on February 16, 1813, Jane Austen wrote one of her best-known letters (#82 in Deirdre Le Faye's standard edition). It was written to Austen's friend Martha Lloyd, who lived with Jane; her sister, Cassandra; and their mother in the cottage at Chawton, but who was away visiting a married sister in Berkshire.

The letter is famous because it contains one of Austen’s relatively rare comments on current events: the estrangement between the dissolute Prince Regent, later George IV, and his wife, Caroline of Brunswick. A week before Austen wrote to Martha Lloyd, a letter from Caroline to her husband had been published in the newspaper.

“I suppose all the World is sitting in Judgement upon the Princess of Wales’s Letter,” Austen wrote. “Poor Woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman, & because I hate her Husband--but I can hardly forgive her for calling herself ‘attached & affectionate’ to a Man whom she must detest--& the intimacy said to subsist between her & Lady Oxford* is bad.--I do not know what to do about it; --but if I must give up the Princess, I am resolved at least always to think that she would have been respectable if the Prince had behaved only tolerably by her at first.”

It is pleasant to think of Austen as a proto-feminist, taking the side of a woman whose man had done her wrong. All that’s lacking is a “Team Caroline” T-shirt.

*Lady Oxford, a famously libertine noblewoman, was one of Lord Byron’s many lovers.

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