Grace Tjan's Reviews > Selected Letters

Selected Letters by Jane Austen
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Sep 11, 2009

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bookshelves: british-literature, general-non-fiction, pemberley

Many people who read Austen’s letters feel that something is missing; surely the author of Pride and Prejudice and other novels famous for their adroit writing could have produced better letters! There are instances where her sarcastic wit and humor shines through, as when she wryly described a dinner party guest as being ‘at once both expensively and nakedly dressed’, but to get at them we must wade through pages of fabric prices, travel logistics and seemingly random gossipy tidbits about people, some of them so obscure as to be of interest only to biographers or historians of the period. Many of her letters, especially those written to her sister Cassandra, were also written in an elliptical, disjointed style that make them difficult to follow. R.W. Chapman, the prominent Austen scholar, speculated that the ‘deficiencies’ of her extant correspondences must have been caused by Cassandra’s destruction of the bulk of Austen’s letters in her possession. Everything interesting or piquant must have been censored in the name of the privacy that Austen so highly prized. Others argued that the letters’ opaqueness were deliberate, a part of a defense mechanism for a poor spinster dependent on the generosity of wealthier relatives. I have no idea which theory is more valid, but I must admit that reading through her letters could be a slog at times.

My perseverance was rewarded by several amusing letters, mostly from the period after her books were successfully published: one to an errant publisher in which she adopted an alias that enabled her to sign the letter M.A.D, another in which she self-deprecatingly (but not without a certain mocking irony) declined the royal librarian’s suggestion that she should write a historical romance about the Prince Regent’s ancestors, and still another in which she visited a portrait exhibition to look for the likenesses of Mrs. Bingley and Mrs. Darcy (she found Mrs. Bingley, but not Mrs. Darcy, whose husband, Austen speculated, ‘prizes any Picture of her too much to like it should be exposed to the public eye’).

Some critics have argued that Austen’s fiction is too narrow in scope as it hardly acknowledges the Napoleonic wars and other historical events at that time, but her letters indicate how au courant she was with the wars and even certain colonial affairs. She maintained an active correspondence with her brothers in the Royal Navy and must have received many firsthand reports. If there are hardly any references to contemporary events in her fiction, it must have been deliberate on her part.

We can feel her growing confidence as a writer and a mature woman in her later letters, in which she revealed herself as an affectionate aunt who dispensed literary and romantic advices to her nieces. Her last letters, written as her fatal illness progressed, are a moving testament to her determination to not surrender to physical or mental infirmity.

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Reading Progress

September 11, 2009 – Shelved
September 11, 2009 – Shelved as: british-literature
September 11, 2009 – Shelved as: general-non-fiction
September 16, 2009 –
page 50
17.01% "Lots of details about fabric prices etc."
September 19, 2009 –
page 100
September 21, 2009 –
page 150
September 25, 2009 –
page 180
Started Reading
September 26, 2009 – Finished Reading
July 11, 2010 – Shelved as: pemberley

Comments (showing 1-22 of 22) (22 new)

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Grace Tjan Elizabeth wrote: "Nice. "

Thanks, Elizabeth. You were right about the letters; there are lots of domestic details to get through, but some of the letters are quite fascinating.

Grace Tjan Tomalin wrote in her bio that Austen didn't care about clothes --- she is clearly wrong. In fact Austen commented on hem lengths in her very last letter (!). I guess some of them is a slog because she wrote them in a disjointed style, which is perfectly understandable because Cassandra would have known what she meant without having them spelled out in the letters.

How does her letters compare to, say, Charlotte Bronte's letters?

Grace Tjan Elizabeth wrote: "I haven't read Bronte's letters so I can't comment. I have a great book of them but I haven't opened it yet. I've always thought Austen's letters are disjointed because of the cost of them. It was ..."

Cost must have been an important factor, but I also notice that the letters which are not addressed to Cassandra read more smoothly. I think that she and Cassandra were so close that they developed a kind of a shorthand mode of communication.

Grace Tjan Yes. Unless you can get them franked by a M.P. Austen was not above this practice.

The letters she got from her naval brothers stationed in remote posts must have cost her a lot.

Grace Tjan I know that this is inevitable --- Mansfield Park and Mummies is coming! After P & P and Zombies, S & S and Sea Monsters, it's poor Fanny Price's turn to deal with mummies.

Link :

message 6: by Rauf (new)

Rauf A third one? Holy socks! Zombies. Sea Monsters. Mummies. The fourth one's gotta be vampires...

Grace Tjan The vampires have been done (why are they all Pride and Prejudice spin offs?).

Link :

Check out the hilarious 'book trailer' for S&S and Sea Monsters :

I read somewhere that they're going to do some Dickens next time.

message 8: by Rauf (new)

Rauf Mr. Darcy, A Vampire? Ha. I hadn't heard about that book.

Grace Tjan Elizabeth wrote: "There are two! The other one is: Vampire Darcy's Desire A Pride and Prejudice Adaptation. I actually bought this one. My JA book group is thinking of reading one of these and this o..."

Elizabeth, the one that you're reading is listed at Amazon for a December publication date. Did you get an advance copy?

message 10: by Ayu (new)

Ayu Palar Sandybanks wrote: "The vampires have been done (why are they all Pride and Prejudice spin offs?).

Link :

Check out the hilarious 'book trailer' for S&S a..."

They're going to do Dickens? Oh crap! >.<

Grace Tjan "Little Dorrit and Giant Robots"? "A Tale of Two Cities and Three Vampires"?

Grace Tjan Ayu, have you read Charlotte Bronte's letters? I'm curious as to how they compare to Austen's.

message 13: by Sherien (new)

Sherien what's with all these vampire stuffs????

Grace Tjan It's the Twilight effect. Now that they've vampirized, zombified and mummified almost all of Austen's books, it's Dickens' turn. ;P

message 15: by Rauf (new)

Rauf A Tale of Two Martian Cities
The Picwick Time-Travellers
Our Mutual Bleak House: The Story of Barnaby Rudge in the 23rd Century
Dombey's Clones and Sons

Grace Tjan LOL. Maybe you can write them up!

message 17: by Rauf (last edited Oct 01, 2009 01:22PM) (new)

Rauf The Picwick Club as Time Travellers
The Pickwick Club as Superheroes
The Pickwick Club in Parallel Universe
The Pickwick Club in World War III
The Pickwick Club as Secret Agents
The Pickwick Club: The Musical
Dorrit, the Little Android
The Return of Dorrit, the Little Android
A Day in the Life of Dorrit, the Little Android
The Pickwick Club Meets Dorrit, the Little Android
How Oliver Stopped Worrying and Learned To Love the Twist

message 18: by Rauf (new)

Rauf Maybe a crossover story but you update the characters a bit. What if Wilkins Micawber from David Copperfield was a billionaire and Miss Havisham from Great Expectations was a successful wedding planner.
Then they somehow fell in love with each other.
Havisham's best friend worked with her; Flora Pinching from Little Dorrit.
Micawber's right hand man is Mark Tapley from Chuzzlewit.
Pecksniff from Martin Chuzzlewit was Micawber's nemesis. His right-hand man would be Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist. Pecksniff's son is Jonas Chuzzlewit and his friend is Bill Sikes (from Oliver Twist) and of course they're ruthless too.
Then their kids, Smike (from Nickleby) and Mary (from Dorrit) could fall in love with each other 'cause they went to the same special school (along with the other kids from Hard Times).
Sydney Carton or Uriah Heep or Nicholas Nickleby or anyone you like could be a blogger/conspiracy theory nut who wrote sensational tales about these families.

And they all kept dreaming of a slightly retarded man and his talking raven.

This is going to be an epic!!!

Grace Tjan WHRauf wrote: "Maybe a crossover story but you update the characters a bit. What if Wilkins Micawber from David Copperfield was a billionaire and Miss Havisham from Great Expectations was a successful wedding pla..."

Miss Havisham and Flora would make excellent wedding planners. LOL I have only read two Dickens so I don't know some of those other characters. Sounds like a fun, wacky story, though. But it needs some monster/vampires/zombies etc to liven it up. ;P

message 20: by Rauf (new)

Rauf In David Copperfield, Wilkins Micawber was a very poor man.
And in Great Expectations, I bet ya know what happened at Miss Havisham's wedding :)
I once read those two novels but never finished it.
I will re-read 'em again one of these days...

Oh the slightly retarded man and his talking raven (Barnaby Rudge, and yes in Barnaby Rudge, the raven Grip can talk) will cause much horror in their lives. I don't know what it is yet...

message 21: by Ayu (new)

Ayu Palar Nice idea, Rauf xD

Sandy, I haven't read Charlotte's letters. That might be interesting.

message 22: by Sherien (new)

Sherien WHRauf wrote: "Maybe a crossover story but you update the characters a bit. What if Wilkins Micawber from David Copperfield was a billionaire and Miss Havisham from Great Expectations was a successful wedding pla..."

LOL...I think u should be a writer...

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