Selected Letters (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – 29 Jan 2009
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...astute introduction (Karen Joy Fowler, The Independent)
About the Author
Vivien Jones is the General Editor of the novels of Jane Austen in Oxford World's Classics and the editor of Frances Burney, Evelina
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Jane Austen's personal correspondence has stirred up controversy since her untimely death in 1817 at age 41. The next year her brother Henry Austen wrote in the `Biographical Notice of the Author' included with the publication of her novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion that she "never dispatched a note or a letter unworthy of publication." Years later, a niece Caroline Austen did not agree, "there is nothing in those letters which I have seen that would be acceptable to the public." In comparison to her published works, the letters do dwell upon `little matters' of domestic life in the county, but to the patient reader we begin to understand Austen's life and experiences beyond the minutia and realize through her clever descriptions and acerbic observations how this simple parson's daughter became the author of novels that are so valued and cherished close to 200 years after their publication.
This reissue by Oxford University Press of their 2004 edition of Jane Austen Selected Letters is more than worthy of a second printing. Not only does it include two thirds of the known surviving letters and a thoughtful introduction by scholar Vivien Jones chronicling the history of the letters stewardship with the family, its supplemental material alone makes it an incredible value for the price. As with the other Oxford World's Classics of Austen's major and minor works that have been reissued this past year, it includes a brief biography, notes on the text, a select bibliography, a chronology of Jane Austen's life, and explanatory notes. Unique to this edition, and by far the highlight are the glossary of people and places and the detailed index for quick reference.
For students and Austen enthusiast seeking a compact edition in comparison to the comprehensive and hefty Jane Austen's Letters edited by Deirdre Le Faye, this reissue is a sleek and densely informative package. Usually I abhor abridged editions of anything, but in this instance we are given an excellent selection of letters and a lively introduction at less than a third of the price of its competitor. In this economy, I say better and better.
Laurel Ann, Austenprose
What Austen's letters lack in open candour - to be found, for example, in the private correspondence of Charlotte Brontë - they gain in wit. She is brutally funny about a local death: "the Neighbourhood have quite recovered [from] the death of Mrs Rider - so much so, that I think they are rather rejoiced at it now" (to Cassandra, January 1801) and about visitors to Steventon: "I do not want people to be agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal" (Christmas 1798). Even when facing death, Austen's wit remains uninjured, telling her niece Fanny Knight that "Sickness is a dangerous Indulgence at my time of life" (March 1817). Almost two-thirds of Austen's correspondence is covered in this volume, including letters to her publishers - in which she often attempts to accelerate the printing process and get a fairer deal for her novels (often without success) - as well as to her friend Martha Lloyd, her brother Frank, the Prince Regent's librarian, and her last will and testament written three months before her death aged 41. The majority of the letters are, unsurprisingly, written to her beloved sister Cassandra (who also nursed her through her final illness) when they were parted.
She gives literary advice to her niece Anna, whose attempt at a novel went unfinished and was burnt after her aunt's death. And love advice to Fanny - "the delight of [her] life" - in which she first advises against marrying without love ("Nothing can compare to the misery of being bound without Love", November 1814) and later warns against the poverty of remaining unwed ("Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor", March 1817). Surprisingly, there is more historical reference than the Austen myth would suggest; she often refers to events reported on that day in The Times.
Austen's lack of paragraphs - common at that time to save on postage which was charged to the recipient by the sheet - doesn't always make for an easy read, but enables us to read the letters as they would have been read (it would have been nice to have a facsimile of a letter included so readers could experience her handwriting, too).
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