8 November 2010
The Bodleian Library has released a cache of previously unpublished letters by a niece of Jane Austen: An Englishwoman in California: The Letters of Catherine Hubback 1871-1876
Catherine Hubback, herself a novelist, was fifty-two years old when she left England for America. Travelling on the Transcontinental Railroad in 1871, she settled in Oakland, on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay. There, where she lived with her son Edward, who commuted by ferryboat to a wheat brokerage in the city, she began a faithful correspondence with her eldest son John and his wife Mary in Liverpool.
Her extraordinary letters offer an intimate and unguarded view of an eventful life in the 1870s and give an intelligent and coherent account of the San Francisco area at a time of rapid growth and financial unrest.
With English sensibility and a novelist's wry wit, Catherine’s letters convey her delight – and her exasperation – at her new environment. Her lively and detailed commentary on daily life in the New World covers domestic topics such as gardening, cooking, servants, fashion and needlework; the logistics of transportation and tourism; and broader concerns including education, religion, politics and commerce. Her letters are a rich source of reference for anyone interested in the Austen family, travel writing, Victorian social history, and the burgeoning culture of California in the 1870s.
November 1874: ‘American leather is just like American public morality – got up in a hurry to look fine and attract, but no durability or solid strength in it.’
April 1874: ‘That drive out of the Cañon over a mountain 3700 feet high which we got up in a wagon and 4 horses was never to be forgotten . . . There were men who said they would not take the same drive again for 100 dollars.'
April 1872: ‘My dear, don’t go and get out of spirits because business is not good – it will all come round in time … You always are rather disposed to see difficulties. I have lived through so many, that I don’t seem to mind them so much.’
In addition to transcriptions of the forty-four letters acquired by the Bodleian Library in 1977, this highly readable edition offers background information on many of the people and places mentioned, explanatory notes, and striking illustrations. The introduction places the letters in context and tells the story of Catherine Hubback, whose life evolved in ways unprecedented in the Austen family.