Probably like most Austen lovers, I first came to be a Jane Austen fan through reading her fictional works. I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir here when I say, Who could help falling in love with Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth’s love story? Not me, that’s for certain. I immediately wanted to read every novel Jane Austen ever wrote.
But as I read– and fell in love with– the rest of the Jane Austen cannon, I began to be curious about Jane Austen herself. Who was the woman who’s books have become such timeless classics and inspired so many other ge8nerations of later authors?
A blog post is really too short a venue for exploring Jane Austen’s biography. There are several book-length works that do just that, and that I’ve very much enjoyed. What I wanted to do instead today was to offer just a glimpse of Jane Austen the private individual, as seen through the letters she wrote during her lifetime.
Most of Jane Austen’s surviving correspondence was addressed to her sister, Cassandra. Any time the sisters were apart– one or other of them visiting family at a distance away from home– they wrote to each other every day. After Austen’s death, Cassandra went through the letters and destroyed and/or censored many of them in an effort to protect her sister’s privacy. But still, the letters Jane wrote offer a fascinating glimpse into Jane Austen’s personality and mind. She must have been just as witty, humorous, and thoughtful as one of her heroines, with a keen insight and a natural way with words. I love imagining Cassandra Austen, smiling as she read one of Jane’s letters!
In no particular order, then, here are some of my favorite quotations from Jane Austen’s private letters– the ones that seem to me to give us the best idea of Jane Austen, the woman behind the novels.
“I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.”
— letter of December 24, 1798
“I cannot help thinking that it is more natural to have flowers grow out of the head than fruit. What do you think on that subject?”
— letter of June 11 1799
“You express so little anxiety about my being murdered under Ash Park Copse by Mrs. Hulbert’s servant, that I have a great mind not to tell you whether I was or not”
— letter of January 8 1799
“Pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked”
— letter of March 23 1817
“My mother looks forward with as much certainty as you can do to our keeping two maids… We plan having a steady cook and a young, giddy housemaid, with a sedate, middle-aged man, who is to undertake the double office of husband to the former and sweetheart to the latter. No children, of course, to be allowed on either side.”
- — letter of Jan 3, 1801
“Your silence on the subject of our ball makes me suppose your curiosity too great for words.”
— letter of January 24, 1809
“I am sorry my mother has been suffering, and am afraid this exquisite weather is too good to agree with her. I enjoy it all over me, from top to toe, from right to left, longitudinally, perpendicularly, diagonally; and I cannot but selfishly hope we are to have it last till Christmas — nice, unwholesome, unseasonable, relaxing, close, muggy weather.”
— letter of December 2 1815
“By the bye, as I must leave off being young, I find many Douceurs in being a sort of chaperon, for I am put on the Sofa near the Fire & can drink as much wine as I like.”
— letter of November 6th 1813
What about you? Do you have any favorite Jane Austen quotations, either from her letters or from her novels? Have you enjoyed any Jane Austen biographies?