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|Some General Thoughts
Written by BarbaraB
(9/3/2005 3:19 p.m.)
First of all I was shocked to discover that when JA's letters were first published they were received with disappointment by some. I would assume they're speaking about America. Quoting from JANE AUSTEN'S WORLD:
"Because of the concentration of domestic detail and news of family and friends, when they were first published in 1932 (America?) the letters caused some disappointment in the literary world. They were thought trivial and gossipy---unworthy of a great novelist. With the rise of feminism, that attitude has been discredited. Women's lives and concerns are now granted to be as important to women as men's are to men, and to speak just as profoundly to the human condition. Not only that, in their turn of phrase, sparkling wit and acute observation of the people around her, Jane Austen's letters are now recognized to be cut from the same fine-textured cloth as the novels: a minor work of art in themselves."
I am surprised any time at all was needed to see what a treasure these letters were, if only in terms of their historical value---the many details we get of life during this period in history.
Speaking of details, I am throughly grateful that these letters come to us by someone so 'writerly' as JA. I mean, when I was growing up letters were still the major form of communication for anyone outside of your local calling area. Long distance calls were quite expensive still and forget email and cell phones with special long distance plans. (How quaint it all seems already with the technology available today.) When writing letters, though, as casual as the tone might have been, who ever, on a consistent letter-to-letter basis, would constantly include details such as in letter 9, "We sat down to dinner a little after five, and had some beefsteaks and boiled fowl, but no oyster sauce." The 'no oyster sauce' is taking the information down to its finest detail. There are numerous instances of this which is one reason the letters have such an intimacy IMHO; we get the kinds of details usually saved for oral communication.
I think the details, this intimacy is what gives some of us the feeling of eavesdropping (with our ear to the door kind of thing and with an empty glass no less)---like maybe we shouldn't be indulging in these letters. However, her family chose to share these letters with us so I don't think we need to feel any twinges of guilt if we accept this gift. According to Lord Brabourne (on publishing the letters) the time had come to offer the public "a picture of her such as no history written by another person could give so well" and "Amid the most ordinary details and most commonplace topics, every now and then sparkle out the same wit and humour which illuminate the pages of Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma , etc..." I agree that these letters not only feeds our insatiable appetite to know everything about someone whom we admire so much but they add such colorful background to the period and offer invaluable insight (where she is coming from personally as well as historically) as we read and enjoy her novels.
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