Saturday, February 14, 2009
My Dear Cassandra - The Letters of Jane Austen
Selected and introduced by Penelope Hughes-Hallett
"I have now attained the true art of letter-writing," wrote Jane Austen. "To express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth."
Jane Austen wasn't just witty in her books, she was witty in life, in her dialog, in her correspondence to her sister Cassandra, and other members of the Austen family. Her letters were her sounding board, the practice for her later writing achievements. They are all cataloged here in this book; her direct manner; her ability to read even the slightest detail of things, "important nothings", she called them.
Trimming bonnets and making gowns; keeping the house and gardens; tending to the poor; visiting friends and going to balls; births and deaths of family: these are but the quilting blocks sewn to together to create her novels. To create Elizabeth, "her own darling child...I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print".
In this book her personal letters are separated into six periods ranging from 1796, when she was twenty until 1817, the year of her early death. Hughes-Hallett provides commentary in between each period and each letter, and also included some of the most beautiful artwork from Regency England I have ever seen. Scenes that Jane herself described and would have observed in real life. They added another dimension to the book and really sucked me into Austen's writing.
I loved it. This book brought out a side of the author I never thought possible. She came to life within these pages, and from them I could see how she created some of the greatest heroines in English literature. Heroines that were almost a mirror image of her own personality.
"It as if I had lost a part of myself," Cassandra Austen wrote to her favorite niece Fanny Knight, on the eve of the death of her sister, Jane.
Indeed, we all lost something, but what a treasure chest of ink and paper remains. 5 stars. A++