ENG 456 Good Bad and Ugly letters in Sense and Sensibility - Peter Sabor PERSUASIONSONLINE V.32,NO.1(Winter2011 Good,Bad,andUglyLettersin

ENG 456 Good Bad and Ugly letters in Sense and Sensibility...

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5/17/2016 Peter Sabor 1/8 PERSUASIONS ON­LINE V.32, NO.1 (Winter 2011) Good, Bad, and Ugly Letters in Sense and Sensibility PETER SABOR Peter Sabor (email: [email protected] ) is Canada Research Chair in Eighteenth­ Century Studies and Director of the Burney Centre at McGill University. His publications include, as co­author, Pamela in the Marketplace (2005) and, as editor, Juvenilia in the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Jane Austen (2006) and The Court Journals and Letters of Frances Burney , vol. 1, (2011). I MAGINE A TALL, THIN, SHARP­FEATURED INDIVIDUAL receiving and opening a letter, eyes narrowing as the worth of the epistle is assessed. I am referring, of course, not to Clint Eastwood but to Jane Austen. 1 The letter in question is from Cassandra, written in January 1796, shortly after Austen had completed the first draft of Sense and Sensibility under the title of “Elinor and Marianne.” Cassandra’s letter is lost, like all of her letters to her sister, but Austen’s reply survives, together with six more epistles of 1796. There are, alas, no extant letters for 1797, the year in which Austen began rewriting “Elinor and Marianne,” 2 but there are nine for 1798 and six for 1799: a total of twenty­two for the last four years of the century, all but one to Cassandra. In a surprising number of these letters, as well as in her later correspondence, Austen comments on the quality of the missive to which she is responding. A capital consideration is that of length. In her reply to Cassandra of 9­10 January, for example, Austen refers to her sister’s “nice long letter,” but clearly wishes it longer still, complaining, “You say nothing of the silk stockings.” In her second extant letter to Cassandra, of 14­15 January, Austen regrets that one of her own recent communications “was not very long or very witty, & therefore if you never receive it, it does not much signify,” but she is “very much flattered by your commendation of my last Letter.” On 1 September 1796, Austen praises her correspondent at the outset: “The letter which I have this moment received from you has diverted me beyond moderation. I could die of laughter at it, as they used to say at school. You are indeed the finest comic writer of the present age.” Cassandra, however, has apparently complained about her sister’s brevity, prompting Austen to write: “I am sorry that you found such a conciseness in the strains of my first letter. I must endeavour to make you amends for it, when we meet,
5/17/2016 Peter Sabor 2/8 by some elaborate details, which I shall shortly begin composing.” A few days later, on 5 September, Austen writes to Cassandra again, urging her to furnish as substantial a letter as possible: “I shall be extremely anxious to hear the Event of your Ball, & shall hope to receive so long & minute an account of every particular that I shall be tired of reading it.” So size matters in Austen’s epistolary world, but why? One reason is that sending and

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