Please help me welcome good friend of the blog (and my blogging mentor) Laurel Ann Nattress, as we help her celebrate the release of her FIRST book!! Laurel Ann’s book Jane Austen Made Me Do It is an anthology of short stories inspired by none other than Jane Austen herself. My review will be posted tomorrow, so make sure you stop on back! Welcome, Laurel Ann!
Letter writing in Jane Austen day vs. our modern world
Hi Kimberly, thanks again for hosting me at Reflections of a Book Addict during my Grand Tour of the blogosphere in celebration of the release of my new Austen-inspired anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It.
Since we are both bloggers and write in this new (in the scope of the things) online form of communication, I thought that I would focus today on writing, specifically, another form of personal communication that was very important in Jane Austen’s day – letter writing.
According to the third edition of Jane Austen’s Letters, collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye (1995), there are 161 known letters written by Jane Austen that still exist or were transcribed and subsequently misplaced or locked away into oblivion. That is a scant sum considering that it is estimated that she most likely wrote over three thousand letters in her adult lifetime. Letter writing was the primary source of family news, communication between friends and business associates in Jane Austen’s lifetime and would continue to be so well into the twentieth century.
To say that letter writing is a lost art might not be far from the truth. If I am any measure of modern letter writing standards, my stationary draw in my serpentine Regency walnut desk still contains boxes of engraved Crane sheets obtained more than ten years ago. I do write personal note cards and thank you’s, but I cannot tell you the last real hand written letter I wrote on a sheet of stationary! Can you? The use of e-mail and computers has changed all of our communication practices. They don’t even teach penmanship in school anymore. Unthinkable. This news would certainly send Jane Austen and her generation into a deep depression. Letter writing, like taking tea, was a daily ritual. Her novels are full of letters containing pivotal moments for her heroine. Mr. Darcy hands Elizabeth Bennet the infamous “Be not alarmed, madam” letter in Pride and Prejudice, and, who could forget the most romantic letter ever written in Persuasion when Captain Wentworth reveals his renewed love for Anne Elliot?
“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago.”
Swoon! Even that elusive cad Frank Churchill in Emma appreciates a well written letter!
“I shall hear about you all,” said he; “that is my chief consolation. I shall hear of every thing that is going on among you. I have engaged Mrs. Weston to correspond with me. She has been so kind as to promise it. Oh! the blessing of a female correspondent, when one is really interested in the absent! she will tell me every thing. In her letters I shall be at dear Highbury again.”
Yes the blessings of a female correspondent are indeed a treasure in the early nineteenth-century and today. I am always thrilled to get a letter, but recently I must console myself with reading about characters receiving letters in novels. Three of my anthology authors embraced the value of a female correspondent and supplied stories in epistolary format or inspired by a letter. Here are their descriptions:
“Love and Best Wishes, Aunt Jane,” by Adriana Trigiani
Love and Best Wishes, Aunt Jane is a story that celebrates the art of the written letter, sent person to person, in private to impart news, feelings of love or to warn of impending doom. One of the joys of reading Jane Austen’s novels are the letters written by the characters that change the course of the action, and send the plot off in new and unexpected directions. I imagined Jane today, and with the sketchy biographical information we have of her, wrote this letter in her fictional voice. Viva Jane!
“Letters to Lydia,” by Maya Slater
While visiting her newly married sister Charlotte Collins, Maria Lucas writes to her best friend Lydia Bennet of her experiences in Kent. Top on her list of tittle-tattle is the budding romance of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Present throughout the Hunsford episode, which culminates in Darcy’s first disastrous proposal of marriage to Elizabeth, we are privileged to Maria’s own account of their romance from the point of view of her naïve sixteen-year-old imaginings. Although she misinterprets everything she observes, it turns out that she is partly responsible for bringing about the marriage of Elizabeth and Darcy.
“The Love Letter,” by Brenna Aubrey
Young doctor Mark Hinton thinks his life is perfect. He is just about to finish his residency and has accepted the offer of a fabulous new job. Things could not be better… until the arrival of an anonymous letter in the mail forces him to confront the truth he’s been hiding from for seven years. Sent on a quest by the mysterious contents of the letter, he is forced to discover the contents of his own heart thanks to Jane Austen, a canny librarian, a cantankerous patient, and a coolly observant sister.
We may not write letters in today’s “you’ve got mail” world, but thank goodness we can still read about them!
Thank you again for letting me share my thoughts on Regency-era letter writing Kim. It is always a pleasure to visit your blog.
Cheers, Laurel Ann
A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the author/editor of Austenprose.com a blog devoted to the oeuvre of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a regular contributor to the PBS blog Remotely Connected and the Jane Austen Centre online magazine. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives in a country cottage near Snohomish, Washington. Visit Laurel Ann at her blogsAustenprose.com and JaneAustenMadeMeDoIt.com, on Twitter as @Austenprose, and on Facebook as Laurel Ann Nattress.
Giveaway: Laurel Ann is graciously given us a one lucky reader a chance to win their own copy of Jane Austen Made Me Do It. To enter for your chance to win, simply leave a comment below stating what intrigues you about reading an Austen-inspired short story anthology. Comments will be accepted through midnight on Monday, November 14, 2011. Winner will be drawn at random and announced on Tuesday, November 15, 2011. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck to all!