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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

On this day in 1817. . .

Third in an occasional series of excerpts from Jane Austen’s letters.

The letter Jane Austen wrote to her eleven-year-old niece, Caroline Austen, exactly 198 years ago today (#156 in Deirdre Le Faye’s standard edition of the letters) is pretty unremarkable: Austen praises Caroline’s handwriting, teasingly suggests that she move in with a neighbor so she can practice piano more often, and passes along a bit of news about an ailing cousin.

But for Janeites, acutely aware that our 41-year-old author did not have long to live when she wrote this letter, it’s the news Austen conveys about her own deteriorating health that is most compelling.

“I have taken one ride on the Donkey & like it very much–& you must try to get me quiet, mild days, that I may be able to go out pretty constantly,” Austen told Caroline. “A great deal of Wind does not suit me, as I have still a tendency to Rheumatism.–[In] short I am a poor Honey at present. I will be better when you can come & see us.”

“JA’s use of shall and will is strict,” R.W. Chapman, Austen’s first great editor, wrote in a note to the final sentence of this letter. “This is a promise.”

Alas, it was a promise Austen wasn’t able to keep: she died on July 18, 1817, less than four months later.


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