Today is the 195th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. Not an occasion to celebrate, but to take respectful note of. She died at age 41 of what may (or may not) have been Addison’s disease, according to one current theory based on her known symptoms – treatable now, but not in 1817.
So instead of quoting Jane herself this time, I will quote someone in a better position to comment on the sad event: her beloved sister Cassandra. As you will see from the short excerpt below (taken from a letter Cassandra wrote to her niece shortly thereafter), the two were exceptionally close.
“I have lost a treasure, such a sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed. She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow; I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself. I loved her only too well — not better than she deserved, but I am conscious that my affection for her made me sometimes unjust to and negligent of others; and I can acknowledge, more than as a general principle, the justice of the Hand which has struck this blow… I thank God that I was enabled to attend her to the last, and amongst my many causes of self-reproach I have not to add any wilful neglect of her comfort.”
(If you would like to read the rest of this letter, visit Jane Austen’s World here.)
I’ve always believed that Austen’s portrayal of the relationship between Jane and Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice most closely reflects her own relationship with her sister Cassandra. They confide in each other, share each other’s hopes and dreams, and feel each other’s pain. You get the impression that either one of them would have, without a second thought, sacrificed her own happiness to secure her sister’s.
Just as Elizabeth Bennet left the comfort of home to nurse Jane when she was ill at Netherfield, so Cassandra Austen did for her sister. She traveled with Jane to Winchester to seek medical treatment for her, and stayed with her to the end.
Do you have a sister that you feel especially close to? Which pair of sisters in a Jane Austen novel reminds you most of your relationship with your sister?