I'm thinking about my sister today, it's her birthday. Happy Birthday Gaynor! Although we now live far apart, it's easy for us to keep in touch by phone and e-mail. When you consider that people in Jane Austen's day had only the post to maintain communication when they were apart, it's difficult to appreciate how limiting that must have been, though I must admit that I still get a thrill when I receive a letter, especially when it comes from overseas.
Jane Austen enjoyed a very close relationship with her sister and it would seem that they both had a happy childhood.Their mother and father educated them at home until 1782 when they both went away to school with their cousin Jane Cooper. Cassandra was to go alone at first but Jane would not be parted from her and though only seven, went away to Oxford, to a Mrs Cawley.
Painting of Jane and Cassandra at their brother James's wedding
There in the following year the school was struck by a terrible 'putrid sore throat' but Mrs Cawley decided not to inform parents. Jane Cooper wrote to her mother who arrived with her sister Mrs Austen, to take the girls home. Sadly, Mrs Cooper caught the infection and later died.
Finally, the girls attended the Abbey School at Reading.It seems the education here was very casual and relaxed. So long as the girls saw their tutor in the mornings, their afternoons were free. Imagine Jane's excitement when her brother Edward and cousin Cooper were allowed to take the girls out to dinner at a local inn.
Drawing by Ellen G. Hill
Jane loved reading a wide range of literature including novels and poetry. She could read French and some Italian, play the piano, sing and dance. Her embroidery and sewing skills were excellent; some examples of her handiwork can still be seen at Jane Austen's House Museum in Chawton.