Jane Austen to Cassandra

Dearest Cassandra

We thought to have removed to Winchester by now, but Eliza has taken a chill and so we stay here another week, and you should not expect us to join you until after Whitsun.

Let me explain to you the advantages of remaining longer in this neighbourhood — there are two tolerable walks, one linen draper, with very poor stock, our apartments remain as unsuitable as I explained in my last letter, and Aunt Tilson has not learned the knack of keeping good servants. Nevertheless, these little deficits are made up by the company. Aunt Tilson chatters on with perpetual good cheer, little Anna is learning her scales and should be a fine singer one day since she practices constantly, and the curate does not call above thrice on any usual day.

My only comfort is that you should not have to endure all this, though if you were here to laugh with me I might be more comfortable. Do tell me how you all go on at home.

We saw the gazetted beauty Miss Pelham in church on Sunday, but did not speak. I did not think so much of her looks as they are esteemed, her curls were crimped very tight and the fruit seemed to weigh down her hat sadly. Her manner was very gracious, bowing to left and right. There is no doubt she knows her reputation and means to live up to it, and I dare swear she will have a husband by this day twelvemonth.

The weather remains very dirty, with much rain, varied by high gales. No surprise Eliza succumbed to a chill, it is rather a wonder the rest of us have managed to find health thus far supportable. I did warn Eliza to put on her wrapper, and that she should not linger out of doors on our way home from church, but she paid no attention, and this is the inevitable result.

I should close now so that Iris might get it into the post so it might reach you before you begin to expect us and then be disappointed.

Yours affectionately,

J. Austen

P.S. If you should discover more of that fine white lace at not above 6d an ell, pray purchase three yards for me, for I have a fancy to furbish up all my bonnets.

J. Austen, my dear,

I believe Iris may have played you foul and sent your letter astray. Although it had my name quite plainly on it, I fear it was intended for another.

I do not know you, though you write to me so affectionately. All I can tell you is that your name will echo through the ages besides other poets yet not born: Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Ford. Once you are dead, your skull will chatter beside theirs in Hades whenever your works are quoted in the upper world. Is it not a charming conceit? Do you not care for that, truly, more than for lace at 6d an ell?

I am sorry things go on so poorly, though I confess I am charmed by your ironic eye. To respond in the same vein, and since you asked, things go quite marvellously here. Troy revels in the tenth year of this delightful siege. Until it ends this autumn, I need not fear the day of my enslavement or death. The weather holds fair for many days now. The clarity of the sky affords us excellent views from the walls down into the Grecian camp. Unfortunately, our besiegers appear to have for the most part recovered from the plague that was raging there until recently and there are no more bonfires of corpses. I will admit I do not miss the aroma.

When taking a circuit of the walls for exercise I watched the Greek heroes polishing up their weapons and chariots for some new assault. When it comes, as we hourly expect, there will be the chance to see much fine athletic endeavour. Some among the Greeks are well formed men. If you care for the glamour of soldiers at all then you would appreciate the sight of Achilles, for he has a very well-turned leg.

I met my brother Hector up on the walls. He is yet in excellent health, and expected to remain so for several days, though in the course of things he must die when the moon is next full. Our dear father, who was also enjoying the prospect and the only walk the city now affords, reproached me for prophecying wildly, as usual. You are right in noting the pointlessness of such things, and yet, one cannot help from doing it, do you not find?

Coming down to accompany my father to the throne room, we ran into my brother Paris, and with him Helen, formerly queen of Sparta. You talked of esteemed beauties, and you should know that Helen is the most beautiful thing imaginable, far more beautiful than a scorpion, or even a poison frog, for there is human intelligence there. People often say she is like the gods, but it is not so, for I met a god once (Apollo) and he was much more straightforward and did not have such a dangerous glitter. She had no trouble getting a husband, nor in losing him and getting another when she was tired of him, and her first will take her back without a murmur. She will come away from all this scatheless to sit and trim bonnets for her grandchildren and cluck her tongue with the gossips in the corner about what terrible people we all were. I confess I cannot like her much, and I hope your Miss Pelham is not such another.

That is all for now, so keep well, do good work while you may, and come to rest at last in Winchester.

Yours sincerely,

Cassandra, the daughter of Priam

P.S. I have given you all of my news, though it is no news to you, for you know as well as I do how Troy shall fall and what will become of us all.

Dearest Cassandra,

I had the most extraordinary response to my last letter to you. I shall not tell you of it, for I am absolutely sure that if I were to tell anyone I would not be believed…