Despite the heat there was a good attendance at our July meeting, for Rowan Suart’s presentation on the Austen Sisters. Rowan started by saying that Jane Austen was very proud of her Hampshire heritage. The theme of sisters runs through all her books and because of her devotion to her own sister, Cassandra, she was able to write honestly and accurately about the relationships between siblings.
She started writing stories as a child and her father encouraged her., writing to publishers on her behalf.
Rowan read from some of Jane’s early stories which she wrote for her family’s amusement. She was a playful storyteller, showing how her wit and humour would develop over the years. One extract which Rowan read, or rather acted in a breathless excitable way, was from a short story called The Three Sisters which was a prototype for Pride and Prejudice. She portrayed the excitement of the older sister on receiving an offer of marriage but then went on to list her suitor’s undesirable qualities. Fearful that if she does not accept, he will offer for her sister, she determines to accept saying at the end, ‘he is very rich’. Another story, ‘Letter from a Young Lady’ written at age 11, refers to a murder.
Rowan said that we are fortunate to have access to these early works. Jane’s notebooks were handed down through the family and did not become available to the public until 1977.
A letter from Jane to Cassandra seems to have been written ‘the morning after’ as she refers to a headache after a dance the night before. Rowan followed with a poem – ‘My Poor head’.
An extract from ‘Persuasion’ and another poem followed.
Jane’s last letter to an unknown person and Cassandra’s moving letter to Fanny Knight after Jane’s death brought a more sombre note.
Rowan ended her presentation with her own ‘Epistolary Epilogue’ in the form of a letter to Jane wondering what she would have thought of her work still being so popular two hundred years later – at societies, festivals, and in films and television adaptations.
Our thanks to Rowan for a very enjoyable presentation.