Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Letter from Jane Austen to Cassandra Austen

From: Foxhill,
Combe Down,

1st March 1806

My dear Cassandra

I have, at length, received yr letter only this morning, tho' you sent it a se'ennight ago. The address was nigh obscured by your flurry of post-scripts! We return into Hampshire shortly, and I must beg you to prepare the house well, for you know our dear mama is susceptible to chills whene'er she travels and must needs spend the next days convalescing.

Last night we dined at Monkton Court, a short drive from our house here. We were welcomed by Mrs Dolphin (to whom we had been introduced at the Ball at the Assembly Rooms last week, as I did mention in my last); she was excessively pleased to see us, and thanked us for providing her with company. We shortly divined her meaning, as it became clear that Mr Dolphin, although courteous, maintained a silence as he sate, a book open upon his lap; he evidently considered that the exertion of having writ to invite us exhausted his duties as host, and had resolved to pass the evening without intercourse. This being so, we were thrown upon the resources of their son, Mr James Dolphin, a lively and boisterous young man, inordinately proud of his golden curls. With little preamble, he chose to entertain us at the pianoforte, through a demonstration of his skills upon the instrument. He introduced his performance with a short speech in praise of 'a simple air native to the locale , called "The Maid is gone a-Milking"'. Unfortunately, its frugality of melody was balanced by an excess of narrative; at the 16th reappearance of the refrain, I would have liked to appeal "Enough! The tune is simple to the point of imbecility!".

I kept my countenance, with some difficulty, and shortly after we went in to dine. Mr James showed me great attentions, but in such an extravagant manner that I found myself unable to consume even the small portions provided. He once spoke loftily of the virtues of good provender in forestalling melancholy, but made little conversation and less sense. I think he aspires to the state of Wit, but is as yet only half-way there.

After dinner, the cards were brought out, and we played at Cinque-et-un. Mr Dolphin condescended as far as to join the game, tho' he restricted his discourse to "One more"; "None"; and "All up". Shortly thereafter, Papa began fidgeting and muttering about the horses, and the carriage was called. In taking leave, Mrs Dolphin expressed herself desolate at our departure; the likely nature of their evenings when en famille is perhaps sufficient justification for her sorrow.

I must close, for the boy is ready to carry the post to Town. I will see you again shortly, and remain until then,
Your most affectionate sister


sic said...

you asked for it...

I prefer cat food!

sic said...

I'm learning just how difficult it is to write in a voice different than my own. Is that why you write these letters? Seems like a useful skill, probably worth practising.

martin said...

It starts with the joke, which by itself would be hard to make much of, and then try to create a convincing setting for it to appear in. It could be a useful skill, if someone wants to make a prequel to the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen featuring Austen, Johnson, and Dickens (that's a no, then). It must grate for you writing Chris-ese!

sic said...

Oh, it does. But I find it good practice. I mean, how could I write good dialogue if the only character I can write is me? In order to believably portray more than one character, I need to practise writing as more than one character. And Chris is about as far away from me as I can get. After that, anybody else should be easy.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mart

Genius indeed! This is surely worthy of publication.


martin said...

Well, I think so, but I would, wouldn't I!