letters in jane austen’s novels

I hope my ancestors, Susanah and Jane WELLINGTON, were as fond of the novels of Jane AUSTEN as I am. Letters and letter writing play a vital role in the plots of all of Jane Austen’s works. Letters are keystones in the plots of EmmaNorthanger Abbey as well as Mansfield Park.

Mr Darcy writes a letter to his sister on a small portable desk. Still from Pride and Prejudice (2005) starring Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley.

Mr Darcy writes a letter to his sister on a small portable desk. Still from Pride and Prejudice (2005) starring Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley.

Pride and Prejudice includes a letter from Darcy to his sister Georgiana; the pivotal letter from Darcy to Elizabeth; the pompous letters from Mr Collins; and of course the poorly addressed letters from Jane to Elizabeth informing her Lydia has gone off with Mr Wickham.

Catherine Moorland writes a letter to Eleanor Tilney. Northanger Abbey (2007) starring Felicity Jones.

Catherine Moorland writes a difficult letter to Eleanor Tilney. Northanger Abbey (2007) starring Felicity Jones.

In Sense and Sensibility the lovelorn Marianne Dashwood sends letters to the fickle Mr Willoughby without a reply. When he finally does write to her, his manner is cold and hurtful as he delivers the news of his engagement to Miss Gray. Colonel Brandon also receives an important letter as the group of friends is setting out on an excursion and he leaves immediately without an explanation.

I think my favourite letter of all is from Persuasion, where Captain Wentworth writes to Anne Eliot while she is in the same room speaking with his friend Captain Harville on the constancy of hearts and natures of women and men who have truly loved.

"I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago." Captain Frederick Wentworth writes his love letter to Anne Eliot in a scene from the BBC teleseries of Jane Austen's Persuasion.

“I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago.” Captain Frederick Wentworth writes his love letter to Anne Eliot in a scene from the BBC teleseries of Persuasion (1995) starring Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root.

These sorts of letters definitely need a suitable writing desk complete with paper, quill and ink-well. This post at Jane Austen Today gives a good account on how letters were written, sealed and delivered. If you would like a more detailed account of the importance of letters in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, you can read the Jane Austen’s World blog.

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Sources: Susanah Wellington’s Journal, BUCK family collection. You can read more about it here: susanah’s journal – somerset to sydney. Jane Austen TodayJane Austen’s World.

susanah’s journal – births, deaths and marriages

An extract from the journal of Miss Susanah WELLINGTON (1819-1838) of Yeovil, Somerset. Susanah was almost 14 years old when she transcribed the following family register into her notebook.

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Susanah's account of her family births, deaths and marriages was most likely transcribed from the front of a family bible.

Susanah’s account of her family births, deaths and marriages was most likely transcribed from the front of the family bible.

The family register begins with the birth dates of Susanah’s parents as well as the date of their marriage:

George Wellington born 26th Jany 1781.

Elizabeth Samson born 7th March 1794.

George Wellington & Elizabeth Samson married
22nd Septr 1817.

It is interesting to note that Susanah spells her mother’s maiden name SAMSON and not SAMPSON, which is the more common spelling I have found in the parish registers and GRO records. Presumably Susanah transcribed these word-for-word from a record her father and mother kept in their family bible.

Elizabeth SAMSON’s death on 28th June 1865, has been added at a later date by Susanah’s sister Jane Penelope WELLINGTON who is the first born child listed:

Jane Penelope Wellington born 6th July 1818,
½ past eight A.M.

Susanah Wellington born 20th Augt 1819,
20 minutes before 2 o’clock A.Noon.

Jane has also added the date she married William Henry SUTTON on 23rd December 1842.

The recorded entries follow with a son, Richard who was born to George and Elizabeth in 1820. Sadly he died three months after his first birthday.

Richard George Wellington born 30th Novr 1820,
¼ before 7 O’C A.M. and Died the 1st March 1822, at Eight O’C P.M.

The Wellington family register also includes the time of day of births and deaths.

The Wellington family register also includes the time of day of most births and deaths. A detail I have not seen before in the front of old family bibles.

The family continued to grow, year after year:

Frances Elizabeth Wellington born 28th Febr 1822, at 7 o’clock in the morning.

Rosa Wellington born 16th May 1823, 10 o’clock P.M.

Frederick George Noble Wellington born 30th Novr 1824, ¼ to 10 P.M.

Lucy Wellington born 13th May 1826, ¼ past six P.M.

And then, two more sons die in their infancy:

Richard Wellington born 2nd Augt 1827, ½ past 6 P.M. and died the 5th Jany 1828, at 5 O’C in the evening.

Alexander Samson Wellington born 24th Augt 1831,¼ past one A.Noon & died 10th May 1833, at a ¼ past five o’clock in the morning.

Little Alexander’s death in May 1833, at the age of 20 months, is the reason Susanah has taken the time to record these details. After Alexander’s funeral, the family would have added his date of death to the register in the front of their family bible and I can imagine Susanah would want to take a copy of her family tree to keep for herself and pass on to future generations.

Susanah left space between entries so she would have room to update the records in her journal with marriages and deaths. I think the entry of Rebecca’s birth was written by Susanah two years later, added to the bottom of the page.

Rebekah[cca] Wellington born August 11th 1834, 10 minutes after three P.M.

Ellen Marianna Wellington born Febry 1st 1840.

The correction to the spelling of Rebecca’s name and recording of Ellen’s birth was done by her sister Jane after the death of Susanah from consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis) on 6 June 1838, aged eighteen years and ten months. I find it strange that Jane did not add Susanah’s date of death to the journal as she did when her mother died.

This is not a very uplifting story – it’s quite tragic that Susanah did not live long enough to marry and have children of her own. But, she was loved by her family and friends, and her little journal is helping us to learn about her short life and the life and times of our ancestors.

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Sources: Susanah Wellington’s Journal, BUCK family collection. You can read more about it here: susanah’s journal – somerset to sydney. You can read other post on members of the WELLINGTON family here: george wellington’s lettersthe chemist shop that time forgot;

susanah’s journal – token of affection

An extract from the journal of Miss Susanah Wellington (1819-1838) of Yeovil, Somersetshire. Her sister Jane kept the journal after Susanah died and brought it with her when she emigrated to Australia.

Transcript of a note to Susanah's sister Jane, from an affectionate friend.

LETTERS_p64&65_EXT1

Copy of a note addressed to my sister Jane, by a friend
with a token of affection.

Accept my very dear friend this small token of affection from one who sincerely loves and esteems you.

Would it were more worthy of your acceptance but it may sometimes remind you of  your sincerely attached and affectionate friend.

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Before there were Hallmark cards, Interflora and store-bought boxes of chocolate, people put a lot more time and effort into their letters and tokens of affection.

Susanah took the time to transcribe this note (hopefully with Jane’s permission), but frustratingly for us she does not mention the name of Jane’s friend, or what the token of affection was. Susanah appears to be more interested in the wording in the note and the sentiments expressed. She wanted to remember them for a time to come when she had occasion to sent a token of affection to someone she “sincerely loved and esteemed”.

Jane and Susanah were very close, only a year separated them in age. Jane was born on 6 July 1818, Susanah on 20 August 1819.

We can assume by it’s page position within the journal this note was transcribed late in 1832. Jane would have been fourteen years old, so the token of affection and note were most likely from a female friend and not from a young man.

Still, I wonder who was Jane’s “sincerely attached and affectionate friend”, and what was the token of affection Jane received.

Was it a small book of poetry – possibly by Byron, Keats, Shelley or Wordsworth who were all popular romantic poets of the time?

Four Poets

Could it have been a piece of jewellery – maybe a small brooch, or a hair comb?

Brooches

It may have been embroidery or hand sewing like a pin cushion, a bookmark, a handkerchief or a small drawstring purse.

Embroidered silk satin purse appliquéd with silk muslin, made in Britain 1830-1840. V&A Museum collection.

Embroidered silk satin purse appliquéd with silk muslin, made in Britain 1830-1840. V&A Museum collection.

Or, it may have been a small water-colour drawing or a cut-out silhouette portrait which were popular pastimes amongst young ladies at the time. The silhouette portraits below are of Jane and Susanah’s younger sisters, Lucy and Rebecca WELLINGTON.

Silhouette portraits of Lucy and Rebecca Wellington, the likenesses are hand cut from black paper with small scissors and then highlighted with grey or white paint and framed.

Silhouette portraits of Lucy and Rebecca Wellington. The likenesses are hand cut from black paper with small scissors, then highlighted with grey or white paint and framed.

Alas, we will never know the identity of Jane’s friend or her gift; as Susanah clearly wrote her journal for herself and never imagined someone would be interested in her notes 180 years later.

Susanah WELLINGTON died of consumption (tuberculosis) on 6 June 1838 at the age of eighteen years and 10 months.

Jane Penelope WELLINGTON married William Henry SUTTON on 23 December 1842 in Glastonbury when she was twenty-four years old. I hope William Henry sent Jane love letters and heart-felt tokens of his affection while he was courting her.

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Sources: Susanah Wellington’s Journal, BUCK family collection. You can read more about it here: susanah’s journal – somerset to sydneyJournal transcription by Terry HASTINGS.  V&A Museum collection. History of Silhouettes PaperPortraits.com.