Jane Austen’s letters

In October last year, a new edition was published of Jane Austen’s letters (OUP, 2011). It is the fourth edition, and the editor is Deirdre Le Faye, a well-known Austen specialist. The previous edition, also by her, dates from 1995 – which is not mentioned in the book’s bibliographical details following the title-page, I wonder why. Since 1995, no new letters by or to Jane Austen have come out, so why this new edition?

Apart from the fact that there is – or, as Jane Austen would have put it, apart from there being a new preface and the omission of Chapman’s Introduction to the first edition (1932), the one really wonderful addition to the edition is the “Letters Subject Index”. This index is a useful research tool, as I already discovered when writing an article on the language of Jane Austen’s Will: I was curious to find out if Jane Austen would ever have been in a position of reading Wills, as the language of her own Will is so appropriately formulaic that she must have been familiar with the legal register. Under the entry “Deaths, funerals, memorials” in Le Faye’s index I found a long list of names. Not all of the people mentioned would have been in a position of drawing up a Will, such as “Ann (maidservant)” or “Beach (child)”, but others were, and there are several references in the letters to Wills and legacies.

Jane Austen’s Will, peculiarly enough, is included in the edition of the letters, as item 158. It is not a letter, nor is it folded like one, as the copy from the National Archives clearly shows. (The Will can be obtained from the National Archives at a small fee, as can Wills of other famous people.)

The letters of the third edition have been digitised as part of the series Intelex Past Masters. It is good to know that despite the new edition of the letters this is still a valuable resource for digitally analysing the letters.

Reference:

Tieken-Boon van Ostade, Ingrid (about to be submitted), “To my dearest Sister Cassandra”:  An analysis of Jane Austen’s Will.

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