New Letters from Jane Austen's Family Sure to Thrill Austen Obsessives


A California library has acquired a cache of letters from Jane Austen’s mother’s family. No, none of the letters was written by Austen. None of the letters even mentions by Austen by name. But Jane Austen is to historical documents as Fifty Shades of Grey is to hotel packages—drop her name and suddenly everybody’s ears perk up.

The Guardian reports on the Huntington Library’s purchase of 52 previously unpublished letters from the Leighs, Austen’s mother’s family. They’ll “help people develop a more vivid understanding of Austen’s immediate world,'” according to the library’s Vanessa Wilkiek, who added that they demonstrate “the intimate, mundane, playful, and tragic aspects of the times.” For instance, this 1750 snippet, discussing recent earthquakes:

“A general panic seems to have taken possession of all here, particularly the female world, and made us all deaf to everything but our own fears. We have already felt two pretty strong earthquakes at 28 days distance,” wrote Leigh. “On Thursday, three weeks, it is prophesised we shall have another much more violent than the former, in which London is to share the fate of Lima.”

On the one hand, this is pretty cool! Austen’s sister burned many of her letters when she died, so enthusiasts are always thirsty for more intimate details, and it’s easy to see someone riffing on these letters to produce a pretty compelling book about Austen’s background and surroundings. (Though it’d be lost amid a sea of Live Like Jane! books, God knows.)

On the other: Unless you are a dyed-in-the-petticoats die-hard Jane Austen obsessive, these letters probably aren’t going to rock your world. Such is the lonely plight of the Jane Austen obsessive.

Image via Getty.

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