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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Jane Austen's Letter 159 to Anne Sharp, Part One: The Leigh-Perrot Disinheritance & Mary Lloyd Austen’s Unamendable Character



“Thursday 22 May 1817 Chawton May 22d.
Your kind Letter my dearest Anne found me in bed, for inspite of my hopes & promises when I wrote to you I have since been very ill indeed. An attack of my sad complaint seized me within a few days
afterwards- the most severe I ever had-& coming upon me after weeks of indisposition, it reduced me very low. I have kept my bed since the 13 of April, with only removals to a Sopha. Now, I am getting well again, & indeed have been gradually tho' slowly recovering my strength for the last three weeks. [other stuff, then…] The Journey [to Winchester] is only 16 miles, we have comfortable Lodgings engaged for us by our kind friend M" Heathcote who resides in W & are to have the accommodation of my elder Brother's Carriage which will be sent over from Steventon on purpose. Now, that's a sort of thing which Mrs. J. Austen does in the kindest manner!-But still she is in the main not a liberal-minded Woman, & as to this reversionary Property's amending that part of her Character, expect it not my dear Anne;-too late, too late in the day;-& besides, the Property may not be theirs these ten years. My Aunt is very stout…”

I see today for the first time that JA’s Letter 157 to brother Charles Austen, which we’ve been discussing at length re the Leigh-Perrot disinheritance, is a bookend to Letter 159, JA’s candid, uncensored letter to Anne Sharp, which expresses, more openly, JA’s deep distress about, and suffering from, that same disinheritance.

First, we may safely infer from JA’s account to Anne of the chronology of JA’s latest, devastating attack of illness, that JA wrote her preceding letter to Anne at pretty much the same time JA wrote Letter 157 to Charles, which was on April 6, 1817. The chronology of JA’s latest severe attack of illness bringing her to bed on April 13 coincides perfectly, and we learn from Letter 159 how severe the attack brought on by the shock of the disinheritance really was, as it put JA completely out of commission for nearly six weeks!  

We also can infer that Anne Sharp, in her reply to JA’s last letter, obviously attempted to console JA with a hopeful prediction that one silver lining of James Austen’s family winning the Leigh-Perrot inheritance lottery, was that Mary Lloyd would become a less nasty person, now that her family’s fortune seemed assured. However, to paraphrase Mrs. Reynolds from P&P, JA makes it clear to Anne that JA harbors no such illusions, recognizing, in effect, that those who are nasty when they’re 50 are likely to remain nasty, even after receiving a fortune.

Cheers, ARNIE
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