P&P day 5, episode 5: The importance of letters

Austen Advent Calendar

This episode got me to think about how important the letters are. I’m not only talking about The Letter, where Mr. Darcy explains himself and his actions, but also the letters conveying information about Lydia’s elopement.

Most of what I know of 19th century letter writing and sending comes from bits of information in Jane Austen’s works, for example in Emma, where Jane Fairfax talks about the post office with admiration, and both Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility have ordinary letters and express letters in the plot. In Mansfield Park the cost of sending (and recieving!) letters is also a cause of distress for Fanny.

Jane Fairfax’s admiration of the post office isn’t consistent with the article I found on post-boys, who seem to have been easy targets for highwaymen, and perhaps not being the most dependable people themselves. It also seems that a big re-organisation of the postal service was done in the late 1830’s, which means after these novels were written.

A small thing that they miss a bit in this episode is the “waste” of paper in Jane’s letter to Elizabeth. It’s several papers long and only written on one side – I don’t think that’s how Jane Bennet would have acted, though it makes perfect cinematic sense to not have Lizzie see the elopement part of the letter when she first opens it. (This is the sort of things you notice after having watched this series a lot of times!) The envelope being the letter folded and sealed seems to be right though!

The image of this blog post shows a common way of saving paper and thereby costs in the early 19th century – the crossed letter (source: Wikimedia Commons). This type of letter is described in Emma (Jane Fairfax’s letters) but I can’t remember if it’s described in any of the other Austen novels.

Now I really want to know how the express letter system worked! (I wrote that sentence and realised that I might be the nerdiest person I know, but really, I want to know this!)

In today’s episode from Drunk Austen, there is a regency TTRPG suggestion and it looks awesome, you should check it out! I’m doing this whole advent calendar as a join-in of their original idea, so I owe them everything!

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