Today we meet the older sister of a famed novelist; adored by Jane, Cassandra Austen remained her sister's closest and most treasured friend. She is remembered today through the letters she exchanged with Jane and the portraits of her sister, still the only confirmed depictions of the famed novelist.
Cassandra was born to Hampshire rector George Austen and his wife, Cassandra Leigh. The Austens thought it very important that their children be properly educated and when illness broke out in Southampton, Cassandra and Jane went to live in Oxford with their aunt, Mrs Cawley, who was to educate them. They later spent a year at boarding school in Reading before returning to Steventon to be tutored at home.
Here they would remain until 1800 when the sisters went to Bath. Whilst her sister is noted for her immense talent with words, Cassandra was a keen watercolourist and illustrated Jane's book, The History of England and also painted the only known portraits of Jane.
At the age of 21 Cassandra became engaged to Thomas Fowle, who had studied under her father. However, when Fowle went to the Caribbean as an army chaplain he contracted yellow fever, dying in 1797. Cassandra received £1000 in her fiancé's will but she took Fowle's death very badly and never entertained another suitor after his loss. The sisters and their mother left Bath in 1806, a year after Reverend Austen's death, and eventually settled in Chawton in 1809 in a house owned by another Austen sibling, Edward.
Although Jane and Cassandra exchanged many letters throughout their lives, when Jane passed away in 1817, a bereft Cassandra burned many of their letters though those that survive provide an invaluable insight into the relationships and lives of the Austen family. In fact, the devoted Cassandra outlived her sister by nearly three decades, laid to rest at the age of 72 at St. Nicholas' Church in Chawton, Hampshire.