February 20 1816: Miss Austen Writes to Fanny


On February 20 1816, Jane Austen writes to her niece Fanny.

Chawton: (Feb. 20, 1816).

MY DEAREST FANNY, You are inimitable, irresistible. You are the delight of my life. Such letters, such entertaining letters, as you have lately sent! such a description of your queer little heart! such a lovely display of what imagination does. You are worth your weight in gold, or even in the new silver coinage. I cannot express to you what I have felt in reading your history of yourself — how full of pity and concern, and admiration and amusement, I have been! You are the paragon of all that is silly and sensible, commonplace and eccentric, sad and lively, provoking and interesting. Who can keep pace with the fluctuations of your fancy, the capprizios of your taste, the contradictions of your feelings? You are so odd, and all the time so perfectly natural! — so peculiar in yourself, and yet so like everybody else!

It is very, very gratifying to me to know you so intimately. You can hardly think what a pleasure it is to me to have such thorough pictures of your heart. Oh, what a loss it will be when you are married! You are too agreeable in your single state — too agreeable as a niece. I shall hate you when your delicious play of mind is all settled down in conjugal and maternal affections.

Mr. B— frightens me. He will have you. I see you at the altar. I have some faith in Mrs. C. Cage’s observation, and still more in Lizzy’s; and, besides, I know it must be so. He must be wishing to attach you. It would be too stupid and too shameful in him to be otherwise; and all the family are seeking your acquaintance.

Do not imagine that I have any real objection; I have rather taken a fancy to him than not, and I like the house for you. I only do not like you should marry anybody. And yet I do wish you to marry very much, because I know you will never be happy till you are; but the loss of a Fanny Knight will be never made up to me. My “affec. niece F. C. B—” will be but a poor substitute. I do not like your being nervous, and so apt to cry — it is a sign you are not quite well; but I hope Mr. Scud — as you always write his name (your Mr. Scuds amuse me very much) — will do you good.

What a comfort that Cassandra should be so recovered! It was more than we had expected. I can easily believe she was very patient and very good. I always loved Cassandra, for her fine dark eyes and sweet temper. I am almost entirely cured of my rheumatism — just a little pain in my knee now and then, to make me remember what it was, and keep on flannel. Aunt Cassandra nursed me so beautifully.

I enjoy your visit to Goodnestone, it must be a great pleasure to you; you have not seen Fanny Cage in comfort so long. I hope she represents and remonstrates and reasons with you properly. Why should you be living in dread of his marrying somebody else? (Yet, how natural!) You did not choose to have him yourself, why not allow him to take comfort where he can? In your conscience you know that he could not bear a comparison with a more animated character. You cannot forget how you felt under the idea of its having been possible that he might have dined in Hans Place.

My dearest Fanny, I cannot bear you should be unhappy about him. Think of his principles; think of his father’s objection, of want of money, of a coarse mother, of brothers and sisters like horses, of sheets sewn across &c. But I am doing no good; no, all that I urge against him will rather make you take his part more, sweet, perverse Fanny.

And now I will tell you that we like your Henry to the utmost, to the very top of the glass, quite brimful. He is a very pleasing young man. I do not see how he could be mended. He does really bid fair to be everything his father and sister could wish; and William I love very much indeed, and so we do all; he is quite our own William. In short, we are very comfortable together; that is, we can answer for ourselves.

Mrs. Deedes is as welcome as May to all our benevolence to her son; we only lamented that we could not do more, and that the 50l. note we slipped into his hand at parting was necessarily the limit of our offering. Good Mrs. Deedes! [Words omitted in Brabourne edition: “I hope she will get the better of this Marianne, and then I would recommend to her and Mr. D. the simple regimen of separate rooms.”] Scandal and gossip; yes, I dare say you are well stocked, but I am very fond of Mrs. — for reasons good. Thank you for mentioning her praise of “Emma,” &c.

I have contributed the marking to Uncle H.’s shirts, and now they are a complete memorial of the tender regard of many.

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