Jane Austen's Family Letters Acquired By California Library, And They're a Glimpse Into Her Favorite Themes

Anyone who loves Jane Austen knows just how pivotal family relationships are to her novels. Whether you're discussing Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, or Sense and Sensibility, the bonds of siblings and family play important roles in the overall themes of the work — particularly how family comes into play with the manners of the English gentry. And now one library is helping us all learn a whole lot more about Austen's own background with family. The Huntington Library in California has added 52 unpublished Austen family letters, poems, and other written material to its collection, giving more insight into the Austen family, and likely inspiration behind some of ther quintessential works, than ever before.

I can see some of you Jane Austen superfans have pulled up another browser tab to look at flights to Florida. I don't blame you.

Austen herself grew up in Hampshire, England on the fringes of the English landed gentry. The letters are from six generations of the Leighs of Adlestrop, her mother Cassandra's family line. While they don't specifically mention Jane, they are "deeply personal" glimpses into her mother's life and Adlestrop in Gloucestershire, on what many Austen scholars believe Mansfield Park's setting is based. Readers will particularly love the open door into thoughts on the formalities of upper-class English society.

There's so much interesting stuff in these letters that you can tie to historical events. Such as the following letter, sent around the time of the London earthquakes in 1750. James Leigh wrote to his uncle Theophilus Leigh, Austen's great uncle:

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 ... 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.

"Particularly the female world." James is acting all cool and collected.

Austen lovers know that most of her own letters were burned by her sister Cassandra, the recipient, and thus unbiased, first-person accounts of her life are scarce. In the meantime, we can all grab at whatever close information to our girl Jane we can get.

Image: Wikimedia Commons (2)