Letters of Jane Austen

Letters of Jane Austen

By: Jane Austen Information you may want to know about this author
Edited by: Lord Edward Brabourne
Published by: Richard Bentley and Son
Publication Date: 1884


First published in 1884 by Baron Braboune, his edition of Jane Austen’s letters, mostly to her sister Cassandra, includes much of what we now have of her surviving correspondence. In an effort to preserve Jane’s and her family’s privacy, due to the intimate details shared and persons discussed, Cassandra, sadly, destroyed much of what Jane had written to her. Being the closest of sisters, their letters could not have been otherwise. Jane writes to Cassandra, “I have now attained the true art of letter writing, which we are always told is to express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth. I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole of this letter.” (Jan., 1801)

Baron Brabourne was the son of Fanny Knight, Jane’s much-loved niece with whom she also shared a lively correspondence. Fanny was the daughter of Jane’s brother Edward, who had been adopted by the Knights as a young boy and who had then taken their last name. Baron Brabourne compiled and published his two volume edition of the Letters of Jane Austen nearly two decades after the publication by Jane’s nephew, Mr. Austen Leigh, of her “Memoirs.” In his introduction to this edition of her Letters Baron Brabourne writes:

... it remained for me to consider whether the letters which had come into my possession were of sufficient public interest to justify me in giving them to the world. They had evidently, for the most part, been left to my mother by her Aunt Cassandra Austen; they contain the confidential outpourings of Jane Austen’s soul to her beloved sister, interspersed with many family and personal details which, doubtless, she would have told no other human being. But today more than seventy long years have rolled away since the greater part of them were written; no one now living can, I think, have any possible just cause of annoyance at their publication, whilst, if I judge rightly, the public never took a deeper or more lively interest in all that concerns Jane Austen than at the present moment. Her works, slow in their progress towards popularity, have achieved it with a greater certainty, and have made an impression the more permanent from its gradual advance. Popularity continues, although the customs and manners which Jane Austen describes have changed and varied so much as to belong in a great measure to another age. But the reason of its continuance is not far to seek. Human nature is the same in all ages of the world, and ‘the inimitable Jane’ (as an old friend of mine used always to call her) is true to nature from first to last. She does not attract our imagination by sensational descriptions or marvelous plots; but, with so little “plot” at all as to offend those who read only for excitement, she describes men and women exactly as men and women really are, and tells her tale of ordinary, every day life with such truthful delineation, such bewitching simplicity, and, moreover, with such purity of style and language, as have rarely been equalled, and perhaps never surpassed.

This being the case, It has seemed to me that the letters which show what her “ordinary, every day life” was, and which afford a picture of her such as no history written by another person could give so well, are likely to interest a public which, both in Great Britain and America, has learned to appreciate Jane Austen. It will be seen that they are ninety-four in number, ranging in date from 1796 to 1816–that is to say, over the last twenty years of her life. Some other letters, written to her sister Cassandra, appear in Mr. Austen Leigh’s book, and it would seem that at Cassandra‘s death, in 1845, the correspondence must have been divided, and whilst the bulk of it came to my mother, a number of letters passed into the possession of Mr. Austen Leigh’s sisters, from whom he obtained them. This he made use of without being aware of the existence of the rest.

However this may be, it is certain that I am now able to present to the public entirely new matter, from which may be gathered a fuller and more complete knowledge of Jane Austen and her “belongings” than could otherwise have been obtained... I attempt no “memoir” that can properly be so called, but I give the letters as they were written, with such comments and explanations as I think may add to their interest. I am aware that in some of the latter I have wandered somewhat far away from Jane Austen, having been lead aside by allusions which awaken old memories and recall old stories. But whilst my “addenda” may be read or skipped as a reader pleases, they do not detract from the actual value of the genuine letters which I place before him. These, I think, can hardly fail to be of interest to all who desire to know more of the writer; and, although they form no continuous narrative and record no stirring events, it will be remarked that, amid the most ordinary details and most commonplace topics, every now and then sparkle out the same wit and humor which illuminate the pages of Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma &c., and which have endeared the name of Jane Austen to many thousands of readers in English-speaking homes.

May 1884 Brabourne

— Written by Johanna Bittle


Jane Austen's Letters Reprint

Jane Austen's Letters
Reprinted in 2003 by The Folio Society
Reprint edited by Deirdre Le Faye
Available formats: Hardcover
View on Amazon

R.W. Chapman's ground-breaking edition of the collected letters first appeared in 1932, and a second edition followed twenty years later. A third edition, edited Deirdre Le Faye in 1997 added new material, re-ordered the letters into their correct chronological sequence, and provided discreet and full annotation to each letter, including its provenance, and information on the watermarks, postmarks, and other physical details of the manuscripts. This new fourth edition incorporates the findings of recent scholarship to further enrich our understanding of Austen and give us the fullest and most revealing view yet of her life and family. In addition, Le Faye has written a new preface, has amended and updated the biographical and topographical indexes, has introduced a new subject index, and had added the contents of the notes to the general index. Amazon description

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