Jane Austen’s Shady Letter About Another Writer Just Sold For $200,000

The legendary author was never one to mince words. By Megan Friedman

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Almost 200 years after her death, Jane Austen is still one of the wittiest voices in literature, and it turns out that sense of humor extended beyond her work. A letter she sent to her niece, in which she tears into the work of a fellow author, just sold at auction for $200,000.

In a letter dated October 29 and 30, 1812, Austen wrote to her niece, Anna Lefroy, and parodied Rachel Hunter’s Gothic novel, Lady Maclairn, the Victim of Villainy. The note is a fictional letter to the author, and it drips with sarcasm.

“Miss Jane Austen begs her best thanks may be conveyed to Mrs. Hunter of Norwich,” the letter begins. In reference to sketches of the book’s locations that Anna had sent, Austen mocks Hunter’s melodramatic characters by noting, “Miss Jane Austen’s tears have flowed over each sweet sketch in such a way as would do Mrs. Hunter’s heart good to see.”

A part of a letter Jane Austen sent to her niece. Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Bustle notes that Lady Maclairn has four volumes and 700 pages, so it’s definitely not meant literally when Austen writes, “If Mrs. Hunter could understand all Miss Jane Austen’s interest in the subject she would certainly have the kindness to publish at least 4 vols more about the Flint family.”

Though Austen and Lefroy admit to enjoying the book, they treat it as we would a guilty pleasure beach read today. According to the auction house Sotheby’s, Anna’s daughter, Fanny-Caroline Lefroy, noted the book was “a voluminous and most tiresome & prosy novel that Aunt and Niece had been reading & laughing over, together.” Anna also noted “there was no harm in it whatsoever only in a most unaccountable way the same story about the same people [was] represented at least three times over.”

“Austen hugely enjoyed ridiculing other women writers and their improbable, sentimental, and gothic plots,” Janet Todd, who edited her complete works for the Cambridge University Press, told The Guardian. “She knew well her own literary powers—and probably learned a good deal of what not to do by reading the interminable romances and effusions of contemporary authors.” And those literary powers still clearly resonate today. Sotheby’s originally estimated the letter would sell for £80,000 to £100,000, but instead it sold for a whopping £162,500 (around $209,000).

This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR US.

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