Debary Sisters

Memorial in Hurstbourne Tarrant church
(click photos to enlarge)

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The Debary sisters were daughters of the vicar at Hurstbourne Tarrant church, about a mile from Ibthorpe House. They were mentioned in the following letter by Jane Austen.

                                                                   Ibthrop Sunday Nov:r 30th (1800)
My dear Cassandra
Three of the Miss Debaries called here the morning after my arrival, but I have not yet been able to return their civility;-You know it is not an uncommon circumstance in this parish to have the road from Ibthrop to the Parsonage much dirtier & more impracticable for walking than the road from the Parsonage to Ibthrop.
The Endless Debaries are of course very well acqainted with the lady who is to marry Sir Thomas, & all her family. I pardon them however, as their description of her is favourable. ...
(Extract from Jane Austen's Letters, collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye, published by Oxford University Press 1995.)

In another letter, Jane Austen makes reference to the Debary sisters arriving at a ball and uses an obscure expression apparently involving the word "statues" or "stature". Here is the extract from Deirdre Le Faye's collection (letter 27, 20th November 1800):

Miss Debary, Susan, and Sally, all in black, but without any Statues,
made their appearance, & I was as civil to them as their bad
breath would allow me.

The first publication of letters by Lord Brabourne in 1884 has the word "stature":

Miss Debary, Susan, and Sally, all in black, but without any stature,
made their appearance, and I was as civil to them as circumstances would
allow me.

(Note the Victorian expurgation of "their bad breath"!)

Deirdre Le Faye's reading is clearly correct when one looks at the manuscript. It is held in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, but a facsimile extract was printed in the March 2004 News Letter of the Jane Austen Society.

Main Jane Austen Page

Hurstbourne Tarrant Church


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