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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Women's letters, women's lives

Texts and emails have much to recommend them, but it’s hard not to wonder how much their prevalence will handicap future biographers. It’s bad enough that Cassandra Austen had matches to hand on the day she decided to cull the letters from her sister; imagine how little we might know about Jane Austen if Cassandra had been able to click a “delete” button.

Luckily for us, however, nineteenth-century folk were, by necessity, indefatigable letter-writers. And so it is that next month Jane Austen’s House is co-sponsoring what promises to be a fascinating presentation in celebration of International Women’s Day: a program featuring readings from the letters of Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell, and the Scottish scientist and writer Mary Somerville.

“Women’s words have often been dismissed as mere ‘gossip,’ whilst men’s have been fêted and admired,” the museum’s website notes. “But women’s letters can often reveal huge amounts about their writer’s lives and the boundaries that confined them, making them a fascinating portal into their private worlds.”

Whatever the drawbacks of technology for literary scholars, it’s a boon for those of us who would like to attend the “Literary Letters” program but live an ocean away from Jane Austen’s House: The March 8 event will be held live on Zoom, from 7 to 9 pm British time. Tickets cost £10 (about $14).

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