This hefty volume arrived with the morning post, and I have spent the past few absorbing hours comparing and contrasting it with my copy of the Third Edition of Jane Austen’s Letters (1995), also edited by Deirdre Le Faye and similarly published by the Oxford University Press. I cannot, understandably, give a full, detailed and considered review of the at this point, but want to share with you my first impressions of it (pun entirely intended), for I’m so pleased to find certain additions to the book.
The first item of note is a new preface written by the editor, shown above, wherein she details the history of the publication of the letters. She also makes the point that the letters between the sisters, Jane and Cassandra Austen, are like long telephone calls. I think they might better be described today as comparable to a series of emails. I often wonder how Jane Austen would have adapted to use of the internet and computers: I feel that she would have loved the ease with which her manuscripts could have been saved and edited via word-processing, and I’m sure she would have been an avid emailer and texter. Back to the letters…what has captivated me, and has long been needed, desired and hoped for, is the wonderful new subject index. No longer will we have to try to cudgel our brains and try to remember in what year and in which letter Jane Austen mentioned orange wine, for simply by looking that subject up in the index we will find that it is in fact mentioned by her in Letter 55, written to Cassandra Austen on the 30th June, 1808, while Jane Austen was staying at her brother Edward’s home, Godmersham Park and that she mentioned Seville orange wine in her letter to her great friend, Alethea Bigg, dated 24th January 1817. All this is a boon.
No new letters have surfaced to be added to the number published in the Third Edition, but new explanatory notes have been added to some of the letters and to the Topographical and Biographical indices, making primary references to the excellent scholarship of members of the Jane Austen Society.
This is one book I can never be without. It would have to accompany me on my desert island. For while I can remember with pleasure many passages from The Six, the letters are so detailed they are hard to commit to memory. Dipping into them and studying them has been one of my greatest delights these past 30 years. This new edition is worth every penny of its price of £25 and I can wholeheartedly recommend it to lovers of Jane Austen’s work or of the period in time when she lived, without reservation or hesitation.