(Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra, famously wrote letters to each other whenever they were apart. These blog posts imagine what such letters would have looked like if the sisters had shared reviews of books they were reading. The twist? These are books published in our time, inspired by the works of Jane Austen herself.)
My dearest Cassandra
I have just received your letter, and I thank you for its ample length and humour, which were much-needed distractions. The weather has been abominable. We are forced to remain indoors even though spring is almost upon us. No balls, no walks, no-one venturing out to call upon their neighbours. It has been quite unbearable.
One silver lining amidst the frustrating constraints of our activities is that I have had the opportunity to more thoroughly explore the library of my host. I am pleased to say I have discovered therein a plethora of delightful romances. As I have little else of news to share with you, I thought to recommend the novel I have just finished reading. You may find joy in its pages, as I have done, should you find yourself likewise without amusement.
The book is by an author whose name I am certain is not new to you — a Mrs Sally Britton. The title is rather uniquely called “Saving Lord Inglewood,” which, as you can imagine, caught my attention at once. It is not often the heroine saves the gentleman. Yet, within the first chapter, that is exactly what she does. She throws herself upon the gentleman … (now, sister, do not allow yourself to imagine the worst) … and saves him from the danger of a falling statue. (Hermes, no less. One would expect more from a winged god, do you not think, than to fall from the sky so inelegantly?)
Well! Tongues begin to wag, and Esther, the hapless heroine, is sent to the country to wait out the course of the slanderous gossip. Only, in her indignance at being shipped off without so much as a say so, she behaves rather recklessly and does further damage to her reputation.
Really, at this point, I did feel it was Lord Inglewood who was the true hero of the tale. Not only does he marry Esther to salvage her from ruin, but he continues to think of her every need — every need, that is, except consulting her feelings. I am afraid Esther does not handle this at all well. Certainly, she is but twenty years old, and her family circumstances have prevented her from receiving the sort of education that might have saved her from more childish thought. However, I became somewhat exasperated by her indulgence of her own needs over others’. You and I have not been raised by our own dear parents to think so selfishly. And that, I imagine, is the point the author tries to make. Without the dedicated guidance of one’s family, it is likely any girl might fall prey to her own petty ideas.
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that neither Lord Inglewood nor his new lady make a concerted effort to communicate — he because he is used to acting alone, and she because she is sulking. But that, after all, is Mrs Britton’s message to her readers, is it not? If we do not move beyond our own habits, nor speak openly with those to whom we would have our feelings known, we will make little progress in these relationships.
Now, it would be false to declare the book a travesty of miscommunication and nothing else. I will confess (to you alone) that there are numerous moments in which my heart beat rather loudly in my bosom. Mrs Britton has a way of capturing those most tender moments between a man and a woman, where the fire in the reader’s room is no longer needed — such a flush of heat rises beneath one’s collar. Yet it is all quite innocent, I assure you. There is little more than a stolen kiss here or there, which really I cannot even call such, for how can kisses between man and wife be considered stolen?
What is that I hear you say? It is but a book cobbled together from alternating bouts of girlish sulking and womanly sighing? For shame, Cassandra, then I have not explained the story at all well! Indeed, much of the theme is a solemn reminder of the burdens which duty and reputation place upon us. So much of our lives is dictated by an abundance of strict norms. We have little choice but to comply, lest we fall short of society’s expectations and are cast out from its protective embrace. Mrs Britton has provided much to ponder in that respect. I think, after all, dearest sister, you will find sufficient in this novel to both delight the heart and occupy the mind. Perhaps you may likewise recommend something when you reply.
It is my fervent wish that, when I write again, it will be of lighter fare than books. I have yet to see Miss Heathcote’s new bonnet, which she has eagerly promised to display at the first picnic in celebration of spring. In fact, as I pen these words, I believe I can hear the encouraging sounds of birds outside my window. Where they lead, spring must surely follow shortly.
Meanwhile, I shall keep my chair close to the fire and await your next letter, occupying the damp hours with my next sampling from the library. It is the tale of The Governess of Penwythe Hall by Mrs Sarah Ladd. I am told she has won an award for another of her books. How strange that a woman should receive such an accolade! Certainly, it is encouraging for the rest of us who enjoy putting our hearts into our writing. Do you think I shall ever earn such favour from the writing establishment? It is hard to imagine. But Mrs Ladd’s achievement encourages me to persevere. And I know my own dear sister remains my greatest admirer.
I am ever yours,