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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Jane Austen's Two Earliest Surviving Letters

As we in Janeites and Austen L read along in Jane Austen's earliest surviving letters, beginning when she was not quite one and twenty, in 1796, and we so often read (not surprisingly) about her brothers James, Edward, Henry, Frank, and Charles (but of course, never about George), I think it is indeed good to step back and put these letters in the context of the chronology of Austen family events--but I suggest that it would be even better to go back further in time another seven years to 1789, when the 13 year old Jane Austen penned what I believe are her two _earliest_ surviving "letters"!

Before you suspect me of a put-on, let me explain. I have just had occasion, for an unrelated purpose, to revisit a blog post I wrote a while ago, in September, 2009, on the subject of Jane Austen's covert contributions to her elder Oxfordian brothers's literary magazine, the Loiterer, in 1789....

....and as I reread what I wrote 17 months ago, it occurred to me that it was very relevant to my frequent claims during our current group read of JA's letters, that a great deal of what JA writes in her "straight" letters is also a put-on, or at least, a burlesquing or satire of actual events.

Now, for those not familiar....from several articles that have been written over the past few decades, many Janeites have heard about "Sophia Sentiment" (aka the 13 year old Jane Austen), author of Loiterer Letter #9 dated 3/28/1789:

The "wise" Sophia's point---when the over the top satirical voice is stripped away---does seem highly congruent with the clear message of Anne Elliot's spirited call for women to be allow to hold the pen (literally speaking, this time):

"In short, you have never yet dedicated any one number to the amusement of our sex, and have taken no more notice of us, than if you thought, like the Turks, we had no souls. From all which I do conclude, that you are neither more nor less than some old Fellow of a College, who never saw any thing of the world beyond the limits of the University, and never conversed with a female, except your bed-maker and laundress. I therefore give you this advice, which you will follow as you value our favour, or your own reputation. – Let us hear no more of your Oxford Journals, your Homelys and Cockney: but send them about their business, and get a new set of correspondents, from among the young of both sexes, but particularly ours; and let us see some nice affecting stories, relating the misfortunes of two lovers, who died suddenly, just as they were going to church. Let the lover be killed in a duel, or lost at sea, or you may make him shoot himself, just as you please; and as for his mistress, she will of course go mad; or if you will, you may kill the lady, and let the lover run mad; only remember, whatever you do, that your hero and heroine must possess a great deal of feeling, and have very pretty names. If you think fit to comply with this my injunction, you may expect to hear from me again, and perhaps I may even give you a little assistance: – but, if not – may your work be condemned to the pastry–cook's shop, and may you always continue a bachelor, and be plagued with a maiden sister to keep house for you."

However, my above linked 2009 blogpost is the first discussion in print (of which I am aware) of _another_ Loiterer letter, dated 4/11/89 (i.e., _exactly_ two weeks _after_ Sophia Sentiment vented her spleen), signed by another (very suspiciously) alliteratively named correspondent, "Luke Lickspittle":

The rest of my argument, if I have piqued your curiosity sufficiently, is there in my blog post, as to which I would not change a single word of it if I were writing it today....even though I am sure that Deirdre Le Faye would not believe a word of what I wrote!

Cheers, ARNIE

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