Prologue - Letters from Hunsford

Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery, I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody not greatly in fault themselves to tolerable comfort, and have done with all the rest. Jane Austen

Hunsford, near Westerham, Kent

March 5, 1812

Dearest Jane,

We have arrived and, I assure you, been most affectionately welcomed by Charlotte and our cousin who has not altered in manners in any particulars that I can discern. I admit the pleasure on Charlotte's countenance renders me more and more satisfied with coming to see her.

I was prepared to see our cousin in all his glory and was not disappointed; I cannot help but fancy that in displaying his house, the good proportion of its rooms, its aspects and its furniture, he was addressing himself particularly to me, as if hoping to make me feel what I had lost in refusing him. If so, I was not able to gratify him at all and, in truth, I can only wonder at Charlotte's having so cheerful an air with such a companion. Whenever our cousin uttered one of his more inane statements – a not infrequent event, I could not help but glance at Charlotte; at worst I saw a faint blush of mortification but usually she appeared to have not heard what was said. I admire her immensely and consider her hearing problem fortuitous.

The house is rather small, but well built and convenient; and everything is fitted up and arranged with a neatness and consistency which is a credit to Charlotte, I am sure. The garden is large and well laid out and our cousin is much engaged in its cultivation and to work in it appears to be one of his great pleasures. Charlotte owns that she encourages it as much as possible – I could not but admire her management of her husband which is surely necessary in such a marriage. There is really a great air of comfort throughout the house - if one could forget our cousin's presence - and by Charlotte's evident enjoyment of it, I can only suppose he is often forgotten.

From the garden there are many pleasant views but none could compare, our cousin avers, with the prospect of Rosings, afforded by an opening in the trees that border the park nearly opposite the front of his house. It was a handsome modern building, well situated on rising ground; however, I saw nothing to amaze me.

I have been told that Lady Catherine is still in the country and that we will have the honour of seeing her next Sunday at church. I expect to be quite delighted with her. Our cousin assures me of her affability and condescension and when I consider Mr. Wickham's account of her, I expect to be hugely amused. We apparently can anticipate frequent sources of such amusement since we are to be honoured twice a week by being allowed into her presence.

I have little more to write. Please assure my little cousins that I miss them already; that I could wish for your company here hardly needs saying but I think the company of our aunt and uncle to be much more to your benefit. Till my next letter, I remain,

Your most affectionate sister,


Hunsford, near Westerham, Kent

March 12, 1812

Dearest Jane,

I will not bore you with further evidence of our cousin's foolishness; my letter after I first arrived has, I hope, satisfied any cravings as you might unwisely suffer in that regard. You will be pleased to know that our cousin has not changed in any particular. He is as he ever was; a unique mixture of pride and humility, obsequiousness and self-importance. As our father was wont to say, a little of Mr. Collins' company can suffice for several days, if not longer. I have already a surfeit and have been here but a week – by the time I leave, I suspect to have enough for a year or more; but no more of our cousin. Last night we were privileged to dine with his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

After being assured by him that the lady would not think less of me if I was simply dressed, since she likes the distinction of rank preserved, I resisted the temptation to wear my oldest gown, and satisfied myself with that light yellow one that I bought before Christmas. It hasn't been seen by the company here and must count as new, I suppose. Dressing was quite an experience. I rather thought our Mama was present as our cousin must have urged me several times to hurry my dressing since Lady Catherine does not like to be kept waiting. Poor Maria was quite discomposed which, given her lack of sense, did not portend well for the evening.

Our cousin waxed rapturously as we walked the half mile to Rosings about the plenitude of windows and the cost of glazing so as to quite upset Sir William and overset Maria altogether. For myself, I had heard nothing of Lady Catherine to inspire awe from any extraordinary talents or miraculous virtue, and the mere stateliness of money and rank I believed myself capable of witnessing without trepidation. Once we had arrived, our introduction was performed by Charlotte, which I doubt not shortened the time required by our cousin as those apologies and thanks were omitted which he believes so necessary.

Rosings is, I imagine, quite grand although I believe it gaudy and uselessly fine, meant to impress by a display of wealth with little true comfort or elegance. Sir William was so overwhelmed, however, that his bow was so low as to cause me concern that he might be unable to rise or indeed might fall forward, while Maria was rendered virtually senseless – perhaps an improvement, although I suspect you would tell me I am being too unkind – poor Maria – truthful, but unkind. Lady Catherine is a tall, large woman, with strongly marked features, which might once have been handsome. Her air is not conciliating, nor is her manner of receiving us such as to make us forget our inferior rank. She is not rendered formidable by silence; but whatever she says is spoken in so authoritative a tone as to mark her self-importance. She does, in countenance and deportment, bear some resemblance to Mr. Darcy although she could well benefit from his habit of silence. Lady Catherine's daughter bears no similarity in face or figure to her mother, being thin, small and speaking little except to her companion, a Mrs. Jenkinson of whom there is little that is remarkable.

The dinner was exceedingly handsome, and there were all the servants, and all the articles of plate which our cousin had promised; and, when he took his seat at the bottom of the table, by her ladyship's desire, he looked as if he felt that life could furnish nothing greater. My dear Jane, he carved, and ate, and praised with delighted alacrity; and every dish was commended, first by him, and then by Sir William, who was now enough recovered to echo whatever our cousin said. I wondered that Lady Catherine could bear it but she seemed most gratified by their excessive admiration, and gave most gracious smiles. Her ladyship was not disposed to allow any share of the conversation to belong to anyone else, a state which continued when we retired to the drawing room. I longed for my father. How he would have enjoyed the opportunity to gently expose the follies of our company. I can almost hear his strictures now; of course, Lady Catherine would hardly allow such a trespass on her dignity. To be banished from her company would, however, be no punishment and, if I were not a guest of my dear Charlotte and concerned for her well-being, I would gladly forsake the pleasure of Lady Catherine's company. However, such cannot be; fortunately we are called but once or twice a week. Suffice it to say that the evening surpassed all of my expectations of impertinence, misguided condescension and foolish arrogance. I can want for nothing more I assure you.

Oh Jane! I am so glad our father supported me in refusing our cousin's offer of marriage. I could not have borne Lady Catherine's interference in my household concerns. I can only marvel at Charlotte's ability to do so. Her ladyship enquired into Charlotte's domestic concerns familiarly and minutely, and gave her a great deal of advice as to the management of them all; told her how everything ought to be regulated in so small a family as hers, and instructed her even as to the care of her cows and her poultry. When not instructing Charlotte, she addressed a variety of questions to Maria and to myself particularly, of whose connections she knew the least. I am, I learned, a very genteel, pretty kind of girl. Mama will be so pleased! Her ladyship asked me, at different times, how many sisters I had, whether they were older or younger than myself, whether any of them were likely to be married, whether they were handsome, where they had been educated, what carriage out father kept, and what had been our mother's maiden name?

It took, I assure you, all my composure to answer these questions without becoming impertinent in turn. Unfortunately, my forbearance seemed only to encourage her ladyship who then began to inquire minutely into my accomplishments. She was most distressed that none of us draw, had not been taken to London to be taught by masters and that we had no governess – I admit to agreeing with her on this matter, a situation which is noteworthy only for its rarity. However, when she heard that all of my sisters were 'out', she could hardly believe it and was not at all amused by my touch of impertinence when I said that I thought it would be very hard upon my younger sisters, that they should not have their share of society and amusement because you and I may not have the means or inclination to marry early. The last born has as good a right to the pleasures of youth, as the first, said I. And to be kept back on such a motive! I told her I thought it would not be very likely to promote sisterly affection or delicacy of mind. While I defended our family in this, I must admit that when I consider Kitty and Lydia's behaviour, I feel some agreement with her ladyship. To agree twice in one evening with her ladyship! – do not tell our father, please. I should be teased for a half year altogether.

I will not bore you with the rest of the evening. We played casino until such time as Lady Catherine had played as long as she wished and then we were sent home – in her ladyship's carriage no less. Our journey back to the Parsonage was brief but our cousin was most desirous of hearing my praises of Rosings and Lady Catherine; unfortunately, they appeared to be insufficient and he most readily assumed the burden of providing them for me.

You may be assured that I have spared your sensibilities by forbearing to relate much of the foolishness that I have endured. I truly envy you to be staying with our aunt and uncle. I suspect there is more sense spoken at Gracechurch Street in five minutes than would be heard in Rosings in a month.

Sir William returned home today; and I wonder whether I will be exposed to more of my cousin's company than has been the case hitherto. Sir William and he have spent much of their mornings driving around in our cousin's gig, which left the rest of us free to pursue our particular interests. I can only hope that our cousin has sufficient employment to occupy his time without reference to me.

I will not bore you further. Give my hugs and best wishes to those four imps that reside with you and another to my aunt and uncle. I am enjoying myself here but envy you their company and that of my small cousins. There are a number of wonderful paths to walk here at Hunsford near and in Rosings Park. I can just imagine their exuberance and shouts of glee as they would run about unfettered. It would make my own walks that much more enjoyable to be in their company here and yours as well. I know our young cousins too well and I am sure that you are being persuaded to spoil them badly – a privilege afforded to an older cousin I am sure – be it by reading stories to them past their bedtimes, playing games with them when they are supposed to be studying, taking them for walks … Well, you understand my meaning I am sure!

The small dinner party you attended with our aunt and uncle sounds, from your praise, to have been pleasant; you have no idea how much I miss intelligent and interesting conversation. If it were not for Charlotte, I would, in the words of our father, 'not hear two words of sense in the course of a day' and poor Charlotte has too many demands on her time to give more than a small portion to me. I am not complaining at all, just very, very envious.

You mention that you will be attending an art exhibit; I confess I have much less interest in, and knowledge of, art than you – I know what I like and what I don't like, and that is the best one can say of my accomplishment in that area. I hope you will enjoy it hugely. I will spare you any further effusions. I will plague you again with another letter in a week. Until then I remain

Your most loving and envious sister,


Hunsford, near Westerham, Kent

March 19, 1812

Dearest Jane,

I have been here a fortnight now and we seem to have settled into a routine of sorts. You may remember my concern that, with the departure of Sir William, we might enjoy more of my cousin's company; fortunately, that is not the case. He spends the chief of his time between breakfast and dinner either at work in the garden, or in reading and writing, and looking out of window in his own book room, which fronts the road. The room in which we pass most of our time faces the back of the house and I rather wondered why it should be so since the dining parlour is a better sized room, and has a pleasanter aspect; but I quickly realized that Charlotte has an excellent reason for what she did, for our cousin would undoubtedly be much less in his own apartment, if we were to sit in one that afforded him both a view and lively company. I must give Charlotte credit for the arrangement. Mr. Collins is assiduous in his duty to keep us informed of what carriages come along; and especially how often Miss De Bourgh drives by in her phaeton. She not infrequently stopped at the Parsonage, and had a few minutes' conversation with Charlotte, but can scarcely ever be prevailed upon to get out.

Very few days passed in which our cousin does not walk to Rosings and not many in which Charlotte does not accompany him. I wondered at this until I realized that there might be other family livings to be disposed of. Now and then, we are honoured with a call from her ladyship, and nothing escapes her observation of what was passing in the room during these visits. She examines into their employments, looks at their work, and advises them to do it differently; finds fault with the arrangement of the furniture, or detects the housemaid in negligence; and, if she accepts any refreshment, seems to do it only for the sake of finding out that Charlotte's joints of meat are too large for her family.

The entertainment of dining at Rosings is repeated about twice a week – although we now have but one card table which allows me to escape the activity quite often; every such entertainment is the counterpart of the first and the pleasure has diminished in direct measure to the number of visits. I can state with no uncertainty that Lady Catherine's company does not improve upon further acquaintance. Our other engagements are few; as the style of living of the neighbourhood in general is beyond the reach of our cousin and Charlotte. This, however, is no evil to me, and, upon the whole, I spend my time comfortably enough; there are half hours of pleasant conversation with Charlotte, and the weather is so fine that I have great enjoyment out of doors.

We are soon to expect an addition to the family at Rosings; Mr. Darcy is expected to arrive tomorrow. While I cannot view his company with any great pleasure, his coming should provide a new face for the parties at Rosings. Lady Catherine is, I assure you, most displeased that Maria and I have already made his acquaintance, and that she will be denied the pleasure of introducing him to us.

Your account of the theatre play was most entertaining; although I had not known you to have any liking for tragedies. Macbeth surely must have strained your appreciation for evil. How much I could wish to hear you explain the goodness in Lady Macbeth. I am sure you would be able to find some great goodness in her – love for her husband perhaps? – And that the whole business was a most unfortunate misunderstanding and that Lady Macbeth never meant to kill anyone. I should not tease you so, I know, but your goodness is so steady that I am sure you will forgive me – eventually.

Have you visited the bookstores recently? I hope to do so when I return to London as there are several books of poetry that I wish to find and I had heard of a new novel by a lady author that I thought to buy. It was first published just last year and is, I have been told, written very sensibly – not a haunted castle to be found anywhere and the chief characters are young ladies such as ourselves.

Give my young cousins my usual measure of hugs and best wishes and tell my aunt and uncle that I can hardly bear the period before rejoining you all in London. I remain,

Your most affectionate, and not too bored, sister,


Hunsford, near Westerham, Kent

March 26, 1812

Dearest Jane

Another epistle from Hunsford. The only excitement this week was the arrival of visitors to Rosings; yes, visitors for we were blessed with not one but two of Lady Catherine's nephews. Mr. Darcy we had long expected but he had the courtesy to bring his cousin with him, a Colonel Fitzwilliam, and thus spare us the tedium of his company.

The Colonel is the younger son of his uncle, Lord Matlock; is about thirty, not handsome, but in person and address most truly the gentleman. He and Mr. Darcy called on the Parsonage the morning following their arrival. Mr. Darcy looked just as he used to look in Hertfordshire, paid his compliments to us all, with his usual reserve, and said little else for the duration of the visit apart from a slight observation on the house and garden to Charlotte; Colonel Fitzwilliam, however, entered into conversation with the readiness and ease of a well-bred man, and talked very pleasantly. They stayed for only about a quarter hour.

Colonel Fitzwilliam has called at the Parsonage again more than once since his arrival, but Mr. Darcy did not accompany him - which neither surprises me nor vexes me at all. With the extra company at Rosings, Lady Catherine appears most willing to forego the pleasure of ours; and apart from the Colonel, I find I can bear the deprivation quite well.

I find I have little new to tell you; our days here have a uniformity of activity that is quite unvarying. I have my walks and my talks with Charlotte; we visit the village quite frequently although it has little more to recommend it than Meryton. I am not unhappy or dissatisfied - do not believe that to be the case. I dare say I would be in equal spirits if I were at home; although here I am spared Mama's nerves, at least.

Your letter had one beneficial effect – it raised my spirits; I am happy to read that you were invited to dine with friends of our uncle. They sounded most delightful – can I hope that their other guest, Mr. Chaulker, was handsome and amiable? I am sure that he was most delighted to be sitting beside you during the meal. You are sly though – not mentioning his attentions to you. My aunt was more forthcoming in her letter – did he indeed call upon you the next day? You must not be reserved with me, dear sister for you know I shall winkle it all out of you eventually.

I must heartedly thank you for sending me that present. You can imagine my surprise to open it and find a copy of 'Sense and Sensibility'. I had not thought you would do anything of the sort; indeed, I had not been aware that I had revealed so much as to allow you to know my preference. I must be even more discrete I fear. Allow me to tell you that I am enjoying it a great deal and I am sure that you will as well. I find that the main character, Elinor, reminds me very much of my dear elder sister. Such a command of her sensibilities, and her manner to all she meets, cannot be recommended too highly. I will spare your blushes and disclaimers. Let it be known that you are the dearest and best of sisters, and protest no more.

My thoughts are with you all at Gracechurch Street and every week that passes brings me closer to you. I remain, as ever,

Your most devoted sister,


Hunsford, near Westerham, Kent

April 2, 1812

Dearest Jane

I am afraid our cousin has been in some distress for the last week; it appears our company is by no means so acceptable as when Lady Catherine can get nobody else. We were not invited to dine at all this past week with her nephews to provide her with subjects to talk at and we were merely asked on leaving church today to come there in the evening and we could not, of course, decline such an invitation.

Her ladyship received us civilly, but she was, in fact, almost completely engrossed by her nephews, speaking to them, especially to Darcy, much more than to any other person in the room.

Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed really glad to see us; his manners are admirable and I seemed to be of particular interest. He seated himself by me quite quickly, and we talked agreeably of Kent and Hertfordshire, of travelling and staying at home, of new books and music, that I have never been half so well entertained in that room before. Unfortunately, it seems that we conversed with so much spirit, as to draw the attention of Lady Catherine as well as that of Mr. Darcy. Her ladyship could hardly bear to have a conversation of which she did not have the major part and did not scruple to interrupt. It certainly was effective and we were unable to resume any comfortable conversation.

Her ladyship's kindness knows few bounds; I have been informed that I am in want of practice on the pianoforte and, if I should wish to remedy this deficiency, I may use the pianoforte in Miss de Bourgh's companion's room since I will be 'in nobody's way, you know, in that part of the house'. Even Mr. Darcy had the grace to be embarrassed at his aunt's incivility. I have learned one thing of interest last evening. Lady Catherine informed us that, if she had ever bothered to learn to play the pianoforte, she would have been a great proficient. I must remember to inform her that should I have ever learned to speak Italian, I should also be a great proficient.

I was prevailed upon later to demonstrate my lack of accomplishment – Miss Bingley would have been so pleased – at the pianoforte; but since it spared me her ladyship's further attentions, I cannot repine to so exhibit. It could not have been too poorly done, since I drew the attention of both her ladyship's nephews. Yes! Even Mr. Darcy deigned to afford me his attention. We wound up arguing, although not impolitely I assure you, and I was able to tease him about his behaviour at the Meryton assembly where we first made his acquaintance. His excuse was that he had not been introduced to any lady apart from his party and claimed to be ill-qualified to recommend myself to strangers. I dismissed his excuse and asked him why a man of sense and education, and who has lived in the world, is ill-qualified to recommend himself to strangers? The good Colonel answered for his cousin, and accurately I believe, saying that Mr. Darcy would not give himself the trouble.

Her ladyship could not, once more, endure the prospect of there being a conversation in which she had no part, and interrupted to provide a critique of my playing, I apparently have a good notion of fingering but my taste is deficient, I need to practice more and should avail myself of a London master.

Her Ladyship was never at a loss for an opportunity to praise her daughter for accomplishments she did not possess by virtue of being unable to acquire them due to her poor health. Lady Catherine's purpose is clear – to forward an arrangement between her daughter and Mr. Darcy; however, I cannot believe it likely. I cannot discern any symptom of love; and from the whole of his behaviour to Miss de Bourgh, I can as readily believe him to marry Miss Bingley as his cousin – which is to say, neither of them.

It grows late and I believe I will finish this letter in the morning.

In resuming, I am reminded of the past evening. It was one of the more memorable evenings at Rosings and I suspect that it will not be repeated too soon. I believe that Lady Catherine and I are of a like mind and desire on this prospect at least.

Dearest Jane, in the course of a visit that provided a number of different happenings, this morning has perhaps provided the oddest. I am resuming this letter once more after being interrupted by a visit from Mr. Darcy. I cannot account for his visiting alone – without Colonel Fitzwilliam - it has not happened before. He apparently was expecting Charlotte and Maria as well as myself, but they both had business in the village. He found me alone and stayed.

It was most uncomfortable; I hardly knew what to say and ventured several topics. It distresses me to relate them to you but we have already reached similar conclusions and Mr. Darcy but verified those. It appears that Mr. Bingley may spend very little of his time at Netherfield in future. According to Mr. Darcy, he has many friends, and is at a time of life when friends and engagements are continually increasing.

I suggested that, in this event, it would be better for the neighbourhood that he should give up the place entirely, for then we might possibly get a settled family there. Mr. Darcy thought that to be quite likely.

I could find nothing further to say and left it to him to begin a conversation, which he did by commending the house and showing some good sense by praising Charlotte, saying our cousin was fortunate in his choice of a wife. I did not hide my opinion that she has an excellent understanding - though I admitted to being uncertain that her marrying Mr. Collins was the wisest thing she ever did. However I could not deny her happiness and conceded that, in a prudential light, it is certainly a very good match for her.

We talked on some inconsequential matters for a few more minutes until Charlotte and Maria returned. Mr Darcy took his leave shortly thereafter.

Charlotte made an immediate leap of fancy, claiming he would not have called on the Parsonage in such a familiar way if he were not in love with me; but, when I told them of his silence, she agreed that it seemed unlikely. After various conjectures, we could at last only suppose his visit to proceed from the difficulty of finding anything to do, which was the more probable from the time of year.

I can say no more, if I am to get this letter to the post on time. As ever I am,

Your most loving sister,