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|Actually, Cassandra is innocent of burning Jane's letters...
Written by Mary-L
(3/12/2003 12:46 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Cassandra and Whitewashing, penned by LizzieT
] One of the reasons we'll never know the private Jane is that, in her old age, Cassandra had much of JA's correspondence burned. Likely she thought the bits of humor might be too pungent and biting for Victorian sensibilities.
I recently treated myself to a most delightful present, a copy of "Jane Austen's Manuscript Letters in Facsimile," edited by Jo Modert in 1990, copies of the handwritten originals of all known letters written by JA. Absolutely wonderful!
There also is a detailed introduction giving the history of the gradual location and identification of JA's letters over the years. Most fascinating! On the subject of Cassandra's burning the letters: all such references have apparently been based on a letter written in 1867 by JA's niece Caroline, daughter (I believe) of James. The letter was written 50 years after JA's death, and refers to what Cassandra had said to Caroline many years earlier, shortly before her own death. Caroline says that Cassandra mentioned that she burned many of Jane's letters.
However, in 1971 a letter from Cassandra was discovered, written in 1843 to her brother Charles, describing how she was reviewing all her various Papers and burning many, but setting aside Jane's letters to be distributed as she would direct. So she clearly did not burn the letters. Jo Modert also says that very few of the letters to Cassandra from Jane were excised in any way, while many of other family members' letters from Jane were so cut, probably to provide JA autographs to the many avid autograph collectors of the time.
All in all, it seems convincing that Caroline had confused the long ago conversation with Cassandra. Caroline also had said that "she never thought there was much of a point" to JA's letters, that she was sure JA herself would probably have torn them up. Caroline once said, "Tho' there are no reasons ethical or orthodox against the publication of these stanzas, there are reasons of taste..." She was rather scornful and felt the letters were best left unpublished.
So I think we should absolve Cassandra of the charge of burning the letters. I highly recommend the Modert volume of facsimiles of JA's letters; it is delightful to see just how they were written, as well as read their intriguing contents.
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