edited by Penelope Hughes-Hallett (Clarkson Potter/Publishers)

Review by Cathleen Myers

No, of course, we haven’t had enough of Austenmania yet and never will. This is a great gift book - a coffee table book full of gorgeous period illustrations (including plenty of Regency fashion plates) that is actually as good as its blurb: "A selection of intimate letters that read like scenes from her classic novels Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility and Emma." They do indeed.

If you’ve never read Jane Austen’s letters, you’re in for a treat: She’s almost as devastatingly witty in her letters as she is in her novels - a superb ironist - and, fortunately for those of us who love the novels, she discusses the composition and publishing details of Sense and Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma in her letters. Whether giving advice on the composition of a novel to her talented niece Anna or advice on love to her alluring niece Fanny, Austen holds us spellbound. Fanny’s story, indeed, sounds like a plot for an Austen novel: Beautiful but dowerless girl is sought in marriage by an extremely eligible young man of high intellect and great merit whom she does not really love but is being urged to accept because he is the eldest son and heir of a wealthy man. Austen’s cautious but candid advice to her is fascinating.

And, of course, Regency novel fans will love Austen’s first hand accounts of balls and assemblies, of the experience of riding in phaetons and open barouches, of dress-making and millinery (on virtually nothing a year!), of her brother’s adventures at sea, taking and losing prizes, and of her mixed reaction to her own fame.

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