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Posts Tagged ‘Cassandra Austen’

Sometimes life hands out a little happiness and surprise from most unexpected and unsuspected sources. Yesterday I went to a particularly pretty part of Berkshire with my husband to meet a client of his for lunch. I hadn’t really asked where we were going, I was very happy to be going out into the countryside with the thought of spending a lovely afternoon out in the sunshine. We were a little early, and as the surrounding scenery was so gorgeous we decided to have a little tour down the lanes and chose a route at random to explore. There were so many pretty Georgian houses in the area and such quaint cottages, I began to think I’d stepped back in time and wondered if I should meet with one of Jane’s characters or even Jane herself. Just as I was admiring everything around we came across a signpost marked with four directions. One of the posts pointed to the direction of Kintbury, which immediately struck a chord with me. Could this possibly be the same Kintbury where the Fowle family had lived and where Jane and Cassandra had spent much time in their youth? If you remember, Cassandra was engaged to Thomas Fowle after he graduated from Oxford University. Jane and Cassandra’s father, George Austen, took in Tom and his brother Fulwar to prepare them for university so Cassandra and Tom would most likely have met for the first time at Steventon Rectory. Jane’s brother James was a particular friend to all four Fowle brothers whose home was the vicarage in Kintbury. Eventually, Cassandra and Tom fell in love and were to be married, but they were forced to wait because of a lack of money. He sailed as a military chaplain with a relative, Lord Craven, to the West Indies, in an attempt to increase his fortunes, but very sadly died of yellow fever in San Domingo in 1796. Cassandra, it seemed, never recovered completely as she didn’t consider marriage again. Jane’s references to ‘long engagements’ in Persuasion were surely inspired by Cassandra and Tom’s predicament.
It was with a mixture of emotions that I had a quick look round the village as I thought of both happy and sad times that Jane and Cassandra must have spent there. I am so glad to have been to take a look. Coming across Kintbury like that out of the blue was a wonderful serendipitous moment!

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(16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817)
Thinking of Jane Austen especially today on the anniversary of her death. She could not have imagined how much her books would be treasured and loved by so many people over the next two hundred years!

Here is the letter Jane’s sister Cassandra wrote to her niece Fanny on the event of Jane’s death. It is one of the most beautiful and moving letters I’ve ever read and illustrates just how close the sisters were and what they meant to one another.

I am taking a short break from today – be back soon with more posts!

Winchester: Sunday.

MY DEAREST FANNY,

Doubly dear to me now for her dear sake whom we have lost. She did love you most sincerely, and never shall I forget the proofs of love you gave her during her illness in writing those kind, amusing letters at a time when I know your feelings would have dictated so different a style. Take the only reward I can give you in the assurance that your benevolent purpose was answered; you did contribute to her enjoyment.

Even your last letter afforded pleasure. I merely cut the seal and gave it to her; she opened it and read it herself, afterwards she gave it to me to read, and then talked to me a little and not uncheerfully of its contents, but there was then a languor about her which prevented her taking the same interest in anything she had been used to do.

Since Tuesday evening, when her complaint returned, there was a visible change, she slept more and much more comfortably; indeed, during the last eight-and-forty hours she was more asleep than awake. Her looks altered and she fell away, but I perceived no material diminution of strength, and, though I was then hopeless of a recovery, I had no suspicion how rapidly my loss was approaching.

I have lost a treasure, such a sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed. She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow; I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself. I loved her only too well – not better than she deserved, but I am conscious that my affection for her made me sometimes unjust to and negligent of others; and I can acknowledge, more than as a general principle, the justice of the Hand which has struck this blow.

You know me too well to be at all afraid that I should suffer materially from my feelings; I am perfectly conscious of the extent of my irreparable loss, but I am not at all overpowered and very little indisposed, nothing but what a short time, with rest and change of air, will remove. I thank God that I was enabled to attend her to the last, and amongst my many causes of self-reproach I have not to add any wilful neglect of her comfort.

She felt herself to be dying about half-an-hour before she became tranquil and apparently unconscious. During that half-hour was her struggle, poor soul! She said she could not tell us what she suffered, though she complained of little fixed pain. When I asked her if there was anything she wanted, her answer was she wanted nothing but death, and some of her words were: “God grant me patience, pray for me, oh, pray for me!” Her voice was affected, but as long as she spoke she was intelligible.

I hope I do not break your heart, my dearest Fanny, by these particulars; I mean to afford you gratification whilst I am relieving my own feelings. I could not write so to anybody else; indeed you are the only person I have written to at all, excepting your grandmamma – it was to her, not your Uncle Charles, I wrote on Friday.

Immediately after dinner on Thursday I went into the town to do an errand which your dear aunt was anxious about. I returned about a quarter before six and found her recovering from faintness and oppression; she got so well as to be able to give me a minute account of her seizure, and when the clock struck six she was talking quietly to me.

I cannot say how soon afterwards she was seized again with the same faintness, which was followed by the sufferings she could not describe; but Mr. Lyford had been sent for, had applied something to give her ease, and she was in a state of quiet insensibility by seven o’clock at the latest. From that time till half-past four, when she ceased to breathe, she scarcely moved a limb, so that we have every reason to think, with gratitude to the Almighty, that her sufferings were over. A slight motion of the head with every breath remained till almost the last. I sat close to her with a pillow in my lap to assist in supporting her head, which was almost off the bed, for six hours; fatigue made me then resign my place to Mrs. J. A. for two hours and a-half, when I took it again, and in about an hour more she breathed her last.

I was able to close her eyes myself, and it was a great gratification to me to render her those last services. There was nothing convulsed which gave the idea of pain in her look; on the contrary, but for the continual motion of the head she gave one the idea of a beautiful statue, and even now, in her coffin, there is such a sweet, serene air over her countenance as is quite pleasant to contemplate.

This day, my dearest Fanny, you have had the melancholy intelligence, and I know you suffer severely, but I likewise know that you will apply to the fountain-head for consolation, and that our merciful God is never deaf to such prayers as you will offer.

The last sad ceremony is to take place on Thursday morning; her dear remains are to be deposited in the cathedral. It is a satisfaction to me to think that they are to lie in a building she admired so much; her precious soul, I presume to hope, reposes in a far superior mansion. May mine one day be re-united to it!

Your dear papa, your Uncle Henry, and Frank and Edwd. Austen, instead of his father, will attend. I hope they will none of them suffer lastingly from their pious exertions. The ceremony must be over before ten o’clock, as the cathedral service begins at that hour, so that we shall be at home early in the day, for there will be nothing to keep us here afterwards.

Your Uncle James came to us yesterday, and is gone home to-day. Uncle H. goes to Chawton to-morrow morning; he has given every necessary direction here, and I think his company there will do good. He returns to us again on Tuesday evening.

I did not think to have written a long letter when I began, but I have found the employment draw me on, and I hope I shall have been giving you more pleasure than pain. Remember me kindly to Mrs. J. Bridges (I am so glad she is with you now), and give my best love to Lizzie and all the others.

I am, my dearest Fanny,
Most affectionately yours,
CASS. ELIZ. AUSTEN.

I have said nothing about those at Chawton, because I am sure you hear from your papa.

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On this day in 1775 Jane Austen was born.

Cassy knew there was something different about the house when she woke up. Apart from the dying wood embers of the glowing nursery fire and the darkness outside telling her that it was still night time, there was a lot of noise and activity inside. She could hear the patter of boys’ feet on the polished stairs and the sort of anxious whispering, which though meant to be quiet cannot but help rouse even the most ardent sleeper. Despite the warmth of the room she shivered under her covers and as her eyes adjusted to the light she looked about and listened. What was it that had woken her up? What was that noise all about? Cassandra did not have long to wait to find out. The door of the nursery slowly creaked open and the head of a brother appeared. Which one was it?

“Are you asleep, Cassy?” called Edward.

Little Cassy held her arms up to her big brother. “Tedard,” she called.

Edward was over at her side in a moment, scooping her up into his arms. “Come with me,” he whispered. “Something very exciting has happened. Come and see.”

Fully awake in seconds, caught by Edward’s enthusiasm yet struggling to get down from his arms straight away, she nevertheless clung onto her brother’s hand allowing him to guide her footsteps. Down the cold corridor they crept past the window looking out onto the garden where the first feathers of snow hurtled down onto the hard, frosty ground. She could see mama’s room coming into view, a blaze of light, the noise of chattering voices and another sound, most unfamiliar, like that of some small mewing kitten. Everyone was crowded into the room. There was papa seated at some distance looking on at all the excitement, his white head nodding and moving in the agreeable way it always did when he was most pleased. James and Henry were sitting on the bed utterly enthralled by something mama was holding in her arms. Edward brought his sister forward and lifted Cassandra up onto the bed.

“Cassy, here is your sister, Jenny,” said Mrs Austen. “Now what do you think? Here is a little playfellow for you.”

Cassy looked down at the bundle in her mother’s arms. This snuffling creature did not look very much as if it would be capable of anything very much, let alone become a plaything. But as Cassy gazed at the pink and white cheeks of her little sister, she decided that the baby was adorable. She put out her hand to touch one of the baby’s fingers that had escaped from its swaddling. The tiny hand gripped her finger so fiercely that Cassy giggled. She looked up at her mother.
“She knows you are her sister and that you will always look after her,” said Mrs Austen. “Miss Jane Austen, an early Christmas present for her big sister. Happy Christmas Cassy!”

And Cassy knew then as she kissed the baby’s cheek that she would always love the special present that she believed came especially for her.

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The weather here in the UK has been getting colder with freezing winds blowing down from the north. Last night was most unusual for this time of year as autumn was quickly ousted by winter. Last night we had lightning, a thunderstorm, followed by snow – huge, fat flakes of twirling ice hurtling to the ground and settling to form a blanket over the garden and the street outside. Everywhere looks so pretty, and as I write there is a pink glow from the sun as it rises, gilding the tops of snow-covered roofs with rose and gold. A day to stay in by the fire, I think!

Here, in contrast to the chill outside, is a lovely review from Sharon at her blog, Ex Libris

Title: Lydia Bennet’s Story Author: Jane Odiwe Publisher: Sourcebooks Rating: 5/5

“The true misfortune, which besets any young lady who believes herself destined for fortune and favour, is to find that she has been born into an unsuitable family.” (pg. 9)

The opening line of Chapter 1 of Jane Odiwe’s sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice describes the character of Elizabeth Bennet’s youngest sister Lydia to a tee. In Lydia Bennet’s Story, Jane Odiwe brings to life Lydia’s lively, high-spirited character as we gain insight to her side of the Wickham debacle through her eyes – and her heart.

Lydia Bennet’s Story begins at the point where Lydia becomes increasingly involved with that dastardly rake, George Wickham. Lydia, who cares not to think beyond a new bonnet and how many suitors will ask her to dance at the next assembly, falls quickly under Wickham’s spell. To Lydia, who is high spirited and wants nothing more than to be married to a wealthy, handsome soldier, Wickham seems to be the man of her dreams. But she finds out the hard way that Wickham’s heart has never been hers and that he only wants her as a connection to Mr. Darcy and his money.

Odiwe weaves her fiction into Austen’s story seamlessly, as we follow Lydia through the aftermath of her marriage to Wickham and the subsequent scandals she is subjected to because of him. We also watch Lydia transform from a selfish girl into a mature young woman who wants nothing more than to love and be loved – in style, of course.

I enjoyed Lydia Bennet’s Story immensely. It was a fun story with everything I love about good Regency fiction – good writing, plenty of period descriptions and background information that lend authenticity, and romance that is exciting but not over the top. Odiwe did an excellent job of staying true to Austen’s style while creating new characters and plots to make the story fresh and interesting. She also gave me a new appreciation for the character of Lydia. In an age of numerous Austen sequels, this one is definitely worth reading.

The illustrations show Jane Austen’s first home, Steventon Rectory, Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra walking in the snow outside their home at Chawton.

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Here is another painting of Jane Austen which I’d forgotten about and came across whilst looking for something else, inspired, as ever, by Cassandra’s sketch. The little painting that Cassandra produced is very delicate when seen close to and I have attempted a similar effect. However, Cassandra’s brushwork was so fine that I found I could not produce anything like the sort of detail she managed in her lovely watercolour, but as I’m sure those of you who visit my blog regularly know, that does not stop me trying to improve!

Jane Austen lived at Chawton from 1809 until just before she died in 1817. I thought you might like to see this unusual view (at the bottom of the page) of the house from the garden. There are several outbuildings; two barns in the courtyard have been converted into a lecture room which houses a changing exhibition. The garden in Jane’s day was much larger than it is now. There was an orchard, a shrubbery, a vegetable garden and a field where the donkeys were kept. Jane’s donkey carriage can still be seen in the Bakehouse.
The garden is still kept beautifully today and has many of the plants, trees and shrubs which Jane mentioned in her letters – columbines, mignonette, syringa, lilac, laburnum, pinks and sweet williams, as well as old roses. I think Jane enjoyed being in the garden, perhaps sitting to read a book or taking a walk, but I think the real gardeners in the family were Mrs Austen and Cassandra. Jane did write to Cassandra about her plantings when she was away. In one letter (May1811) she writes, “The chicken are all alive and fit for the table, but we save them for something grand. Some of the flower seeds are coming up very well, but your mignonette makes a wretched appearance. Miss Benn has been equally unlucky as to hers. She has seed from four different people, and none of it comes up. Our young piony at the foot of the fir-tree has just blown and looks very handsome, and the whole of the shrubbery border will soon be very gay with pinks and sweet-williams, in addition to the columbines already in bloom.
The syringas, too, are coming out. We are likely to have a great crop of Orleans plumbs, but not many greengages – on the standard scarcely any, three or four dozen, perhaps, against the wall. I believe I told you differently when I first came home, but I can now judge better than I could then.’

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