Jane Austen was a prolific letter writer and, perhaps not surprisingly, letters play an important part in her novels.
In this, the first of an occasional series, we bring you some of the letters that shape Jane Austen's books. The first is from Persuasion, and it was written to Mr Smith by Mr Elliot.
"This is full of papers belonging to him, to my husband; a small portion only of what I had to look over when I lost him,' (said Mrs Smith). "The letter I am looking for was one written by Mr. Elliot to him before our marriage, and happened to be saved; why, one can hardly imagine. But he was careless and immethodical, like other men, about those things; and when I came to examine his papers, I found it with others still more trivial, from different people scattered here and there, while many letters and memorandums of real importance had been destroyed. Here it is; I would not burn it, because being even then very little satisfied with Mr. Elliot, I was determined to preserve every document of former intimacy. I have now another motive for being glad that I can produce it."
This was the letter, directed to "Charles Smith, Esq. Tunbridge Wells," and dated from London, as far back as July, 1803: --
"Dear Smith,--I have received yours. Your kindness almost overpowers me. I wish nature had made such hearts as yours more common, but I have lived three-and-twenty years in the world, and have seen none like it. At present, believe me, I have no need of your services, being in cash again. Give me joy: I have got rid of Sir Walter and Miss. They are gone back to Kellynch, and almost made me swear to visit them this summer; but my first visit to Kellynch will be with a surveyor, to tell me how to bring it with best advantage to the hammer. The baronet, nevertheless, is not unlikely to marry again; he is quite fool enough. If he does, however, they will leave me in peace, which may be a decent equivalent for the reversion. He is worse than last year.
"I wish I had any name but Elliot. I am sick of it. The name of Walter I can drop, thank God! and I desire you will never insult me with my second W. again, meaning, for the rest of my life, to be only yours truly,--Wm. Elliot."
Such a letter could not be read without putting Anne in a glow; and Mrs. Smith, observing the high colour in her face, said--
"The language, I know, is highly disrespectful. Though I have forgot the exact terms, I have a perfect impression of the general meaning. But it shows you the man. Mark his professions to my poor husband. Can any thing be stronger?"
No, nothing indeed!
This was the letter that enabled Anne to see through Mr Elliot. She'd already had her suspicions about him, but this letter proved that her suspicions were right.