Halloween is upon us! To celebrate the holiday, we searched through Jane Austen’s letters looking for words such as “ghost,” “fright” and “dead” — and found plenty of humorous examples. Here’s a sampling:
July 3, 1813, to brother Frank
It must be real enjoyment to you, since you are obliged to leave England, to be where you are, seeing something of a new Country, & one that has been so distinguished as Sweden. – You must have great pleasure in it. … Gustavus Vaza, & Charles 12th & Christiana, & Linneus – do their Ghosts rise up before you? – I have a great respect for former Sweden.
Sept. 15, 1813, to sister Cassandra
Fanny and the two little girls are gone to take Places for to-night at Covent Garden; “Clandestine Marriage” and “Midas.” The latter will be a fine show for L. and M. [Lizzie and Marianne]. They revelled last night in “Don Juan,” whom we left in hell at half-past 11. We had scaramouch and a ghost, and were delighted.
May 24, 1813, to Cassandra
I should like to see Miss Burdett very well, but that I am rather frightened by hearing that she wishes to be introduced to me. If I am a wild beast, I cannot help it. It is not my own fault.
Oct. 27, 1798, to Cassandra
Mrs. Hall of Sherborne was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, oweing to a fright. I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband.
Jan. 8, 1801, to Cassandra
Mr. Payne has been dead long enough for Henry to be out of mourning for him before his last visit, though we knew nothing of it till about that time. Why he died, or of what complaint, or to what Noblemen he bequeathed his four daughters in marriage, we have not heard.
Sept. 8, 1816, to Cassandra
Sir Tho. Miller is dead. I treat you with a dead Baronet in almost every letter.
Fall is just on the horizon and it’s time to start thinking about the 2020 Jane Austen Summer Program. Next June — that’s June 18-21, if you want to mark your calendars now — we’ll explore the theme “Jane Austen’s World,” including war, fashion, letters and the literary debates of her time.
Each year since 2013, we’ve explored one of Austen’s novels at JASP. This year will be a bit different: We’ll be reading the fourth edition of “Jane Austen’s Letters,” edited by Deirdre Le Faye, and Claire Tomalin’s excellent biography, “Jane Austen: A Life.”
Why these books? JASP co-founder Inger Brodey says: “Often readers think that they get a feeling for Austen the author from the general tone of Austen the narrator in her various novels. Yet, for anyone interested in Austen the author and woman herself, the best access we have to her life is through the letters that she wrote and through excellent biographies, like Claire Tomalin’s.”
Brodey continues: “In our JASPs, we like to incorporate aspects of material history and culture, and this year’s topic is a natural culmination of that aspect of our programming. We will have several of our favorite historians back with us, including fashion historian Samantha Bullat and penmanship historian Benjamin Bartgis, as well as new faces, such as Robert Morrison, author of the new and exciting book “The Regency Years,” and Janine Barchas, the brilliant mind behind the “Will & Jane” exhibit at the Folger Theatre [in Washington, D.C., in 2016] and the [online exhibit] “What Jane Saw.” Brodey added that JASP is looking to build on last year’s successful creative writing workshop, which was hosted by Randall Kenan and “Unmarriageable” author Soniah Kamal.
We asked Brodey what JASP attendees should be thinking about as they read Austen’s letters and Tomalin’s biography. She underscored their connections to the novels and historical events. “I find it useful to print out and keep referencing a chronology of historical events and also the timeline for writing the novels,” she said. “Then when Austen is inquiring about hedgerows in a letter at the time she was writing ‘Mansfield Park,’ for example, it is more meaningful when you can think about why she wanted to know.”
Brodey had one last tip for readers: “Look for … her advice to other aspiring authors. That’s one of the few times we hear her talk (fairly) directly about her art.”
JASP is pleased to introduce two new writers to the blog:
Robin Floyd is an educator at Wake County Public Schools who makes various fiber arts and enjoys learning about history and literature. She lives in Raleigh with her husband and two children.
Zeina Makky is a newspaper designer turned web developer, living and working in the D.C. area. Besides Jane Austen, Zeina’s passions include calligraphy, pop culture and chocolate.
The Jane Austen Summer Program is co-sponsoring a free webinar on ” ‘Pride and Prejudice’ in its Third Century” with the National Humanities Center on April 23, 2020. The webinar, led by Nicholas Dames, a professor of humanities at Columbia University, will explore the novel and whether we read Austen to flee modernity — or to understand it. To register, visit: https://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/education-pro…/webinars.