Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Gill Hornby on the Lesser Known Austen Sister

From Literary Hub:

While her younger sister is still known and loved the world over for her writing, Cassandra Austen—the first-born daughter, and therefore the Miss Austen to their contemporaries—is known, if at all, for one thing. In the last years of her life, she sifted through all the many hundreds of letters she had received from her beloved Jane and burned nearly all of them. It is the defining act and fact of Cassandra’s life: a notorious episode of literary vandalism. And most Jane Austen fans find it very hard to forgive her.

But these fans often discount the matter of the deep love and trust between the two sisters, and the fact that Cassandra was Jane’s literary executor: the keeper of the flame. They ignore the evidence that Jane herself, had she been given the chance, would have approved of this bonfire. After all, the celebrated author was a deeply private person, who had chosen to be published anonymously in her own lifetime and not share her secret with numerous friends and neighbors, even as they were discussing her work in her presence. There is little doubt that Cassy and Jane would have been of one mind on this, as they were of one mind on most things: the novels are enough. The rest of it is none of anybody’s business. And from their own 19th-century point of view, that seems perfectly reasonable: a lady should never draw attention to herself; it didn’t do. (Read more.)

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