Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Backward Letter from Jane Austen, 1817

Sunday, January 21, 2018
Susan reporting,

Whenever I'm in New York, I always try to stop by The Morgan Library to see what treasures from their extraordinary collection have been rotated onto display. As usual, I wasn't disappointed. Among the current exhibits are a score by Mozart, a Gutenberg Bible, a proclamation from George Washington, letters from Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton (!!!), and this wonderful short letter from Jane Austen. These items and others are part of the current Treasures from the Vault exhibition, on display through March 11, 2018.

At first glance, the words appear to be beautifully written gibberish. But there's a trick to reading it: each word is spelled backward. According to the Library's placard, the letter was written by Austen to her eight-year-old niece Cassandra Esten Austen, the daughter of her brother Charles. The code is a bit challenging, but not so difficult that a clever eight-year-old (and being Jane Austen's niece, Cassandra must have been clever) couldn't decipher it. I also imagine Cassandra treasured it, too; her aunt died only six months later, leaving her final novel, Sanditon, unfinished.

I'm not providing a translation (the Library didn't either), so you can try to figure it out for yourselves. It begins "My dear Cassy I wish you a happy new year" and is signed "Your affectionate aunt Jane Austen." What lies between is up to you. Please click on the image to enlarge.

Above: Jane Austen (1775-1817) Autograph letter, written backward, to her niece Cassandra Austen, signed and dated Notwahc [Chawton], 8 January 1817, The Morgan Library. 
Below: Mr. Morgan's Library, The Morgan Library
Photos ©2018 Susan Holloway Scott


Lucy said...

She had lovely handwriting, didn't she? It's a sweet sort of personal glimpse of the person she was. Thanks for sharing this.

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