The Jane Austen Code

Jane Austen: Liked to write in code.

Dan Brown fans sometimes have a hard time believing the parts of his stories where one person inscribes some important information for another in code.

Sophie Neveu, the heroine of the Da Vinci Code, was known to play code and anagram games when she was a small child with her grandfather; the knowledge of these games later turns out to be crucial to solving the puzzles her grandfather leaves in the wake of his murder. Robert Langdon must similarly make sense out of Masonic codes on the small pyramid left to him by Peter Solomon in The Lost Symbol.

Dan Brown has told several interviewers that he has always been fascinated by codes, cipher, anagrams, and mirror writing. As a child, Christmas in his family’s household meant going on treasure hunts, solving puzzles, and figuring out clues to find his gifts.

A new show at the Morgan Library, in New York, reveals that the greatly esteemed 19th century novelist Jane Austen played similar games with her young niece, Cassy. The show includes this nice New Year anecdote recounted in the New York Times:

Who would not wish for a close relative like Aunt Jane? In early 1817, the year she died, suffering, perhaps, from lymphoma and beginning work on a novel she became too ill to finish, Jane Austen wrote a letter to her 8-year-old niece, Cassandra.

“Ym raed Yssac,” it begins, “I hsiw uoy a yppah wen raey.”

Every word in the letter is spelled backward, from that opening New Year’s wish to her dear Cassy to the signature, “Ruoy Etanoitceffa Tnua, Enaj Netsua.” The author, here as elsewhere, does not condescend to her readers, but she also knows who they are and how to give them pleasure. Imagine an 8-year-old girl, perhaps as precocious as her aunt, playfully deciphering these good wishes.”

A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy, runs through March 14.

Buy Secrets of The Lost Symbol today or download it now as an e-book.

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