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The other main item of interest that held sway during the Summer-I-was-absent-due-to-injury was the rather contentious issue of the sale of Jane Austen’s turquoise ring and its purchaser, Kelly Clarkson.

Jane Austen's Ring, and Note from Eleanor Austen neé Jackson to Caroline Austen ©Sotheby's

Jane Austen’s Ring, and Note from Eleanor Austen neé Jackson to Caroline Austen ©Sotheby’s

You will recall that this ring first surfaced in the public sphere last June when it was announced by Sotheby’s, the auction house, that it was going to be sold at their auction on 10th July. Apart from a small mention of the ring in an article by the late Elizabeth Jenkins in the Jane Austen Society Report for 1960,  few people knew of its existence. A note written by Eleanor, which was included with the ring in the sale, delineated some of its history. The ring was Jane Austen’s and, on her death, it became the property of her sister, Cassandra. Three years after Jane died, in 1820, Henry Austen, her brother, married for the second time.  Eleanor Jackson was his choice. She was well known to the Austen family, and was a niece of Mr. Papillon, the Rector of Chawton (who was, you will remember, the subject of a joke between Mrs Knight( the adoptive mother of Edward Austen) and Jane Austen. Once she learned of the engagement between Henry and Eleanor, Cassandra gave the ring to Eleanor.  Deirdre Le Faye in the Jane Austen Society’s Report  of 1989 wrote about Eleanor and Henry’s marriage:

The last of the nine sisters-in-law was Eleanor Jackson, Henry’s second wife. Jane had always expected that Henry would marry again, and before his bankruptcy in 1816 there had been several ladies in his circle of wealthy London friends to whom he seemed equally attracted and on whom he sought Jane’s sisterly opinions. However, his sudden reduction to near-poverty meant that any thoughts of re-marriage had to be indefinitely postponed, and it was only his succession to the Steventon living in 1819,  following James’ (Austen’s jfw) death, which enabled him to support a wife once more. Not much is known about Eleanor, save that she was the niece of the Reverend John Papillon, Rector of Chawton at the time the Austens were living there; her home was in Chelsea, so Henry could have met her in either place. It is not certain whether Jane ever knew her, but it seems probable she is the ”Eleanor” mentioned in Letter no. 75 in January 1813.  In 1819 she was referred to in family correspondence as having ‘a very good pair of Eyes”  but no other description or picture of her is known. Persumably she was intelligent- one cannot imagine Henry choosing a dull, stupid woman-and they were married in 1820. Despite her ill-health, (by the 1830s she had developed a semi-crippling ailment, probably something rheumatic,) Henry was devoted to Eleanor: ”one dearer to me than life and for whose comfort I am solicitous beyond my own existence “. Cassandra was happy to think that he had found such an excellent wife to support him in his last role in life and an impoverished country clergyman. It is thanks to Eleanor that the miniature of Mrs Hancock, now on display at the Cottage survives; after Henry’s death in 1850 one of Frank’s granddaughters came to live with Eleanor and was in turn bequeathed the little picture( see below- jaw). It descended in that branch of the family until Mr Edward Carptenter was able to acquire it on behalf of the Jane Austen Society.

(pp.161-162)

Eleanor was well aware of the ring’s history and significance: this is clear from the text of her note, below written:

Note written by Eleanor Austen, Née Jackson to Caroline Austen in 1869 ©Sotheby's

Note written by Eleanor Austen, Née Jackson ©Sotheby’s

The sale took place, and the ring was sold for £126,000, which, when the buyer’s premium and VAT was added to it, made a total purchase price of £152,450. This far exceeded the original auction estimate which was between  £20,000-30,000. The purchaser’s identity was kept secret, until eventually it was announced that the American country singer, Kelly Clarkson, had bid for the ring via a telephone link and had won it. She also brought the first edition of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion offered at the sale. It then became known that Ms. Clarkson was a Janeite, and had even visited Derbyshire and Chatsworth on a mini Pride and Prejudice sightseeing spree while she was on a concert tour in the UK during the previous year.

Then things began to get complicated. Ms Clarkson was refused an export license to take the ring home to the US. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, a part of the Arts Council, placed a temporary ban on its export, in order for an appeal to be raised to purchase the ring and keep it in the UK. This Committee has a duty to advise the Government on the principles which should govern the control of export of objects of cultural interest to the UK under the terms of the Export Control Act 2002 and on the operation of the export control system generally. It also has a duty to advise the Secretary of State on all cases where refusal of an export licence for an object of cultural interest is suggested on grounds of national importance, and  can also advise in cases where a special Exchequer grant is needed towards the purchase of an object that would otherwise be exported. It investigated and considered the case for keeping the ring in the UK. In order for an item to qualify  it has to meet one of the three Waverley Criterior : they are

a) is the item  so closely connected with our history and national life that its departure would be a misfortune?

b) Is it of outstanding aesthetic importance?

c) Is it of outstanding significance for the study of some particular branch of art, learning or history?

The Expert’s Statement submitted to the Reviewing Committee proposed that

…the ring meets the third Waverley criterion because there are reasonable documentary grounds to believe that it was owned by Jane Austen. Thanks to her stature as a novelist, and the affection as well as respect in which she is held, this elegant and appropriately simple ring has caught the public imagination as a rare and intimate object associated with one of the greatest English writers. The ring has been almost entirely unknown for many years. It is likely that it will be illustrated in future biographies.

A temporary ban on export was eventually granted. At the hearing the case was made for keeping the ring, and here is an extract from the submission:

The Expert Adviser stated that Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton exhibits only two pieces of jewellery as having been owned by Jane Austen: a turquoise bead bracelet which previously belonged to Mary A. Austen-Leigh and a topaz cross, which Charles Austen sent to Jane in 1801. The topaz cross is believed to be the model for the amber cross given by William to Fanny Price in Mansfield Park. Jane Austen’s modest lifestyle and her early death mean that objects associated with her of any kind are rare; even her letters were in part destroyed by her family.

Jane Austen showed an appreciation of the significance of jewellery in personal relationships both in her life and in her novels. Furthermore, rings reflected the characters of wearers in her novels and jewels were often much more than symbols of vanity and excess. In Mansfield Park the giving of a jewel and its implications are explored in detail. It was precisely because Jane Austen understood so minutely the social and emotional nuances, including pain and pleasure, which could be associated with a piece of jewellery, and because jewellery has such potency as an intimate possession, that this elegant and appropriately simple ring aroused such interest when its auction was announced last year. Furthermore, the ring under consideration was little known to the present generation of Austen scholars and entirely unknown to the great majority of her readers.

The Committee eventually decided that 

… the design of the ring appeared broadly comparable with other rings of the 1760s. There was particular interest in the significance of the use of a turquoise stone in a gold setting. Turquoise was believed to have protective qualities since at least the middle ages and had long been a symbol of love. It was observed that while not one of the more obviously expensive gem stones, such as a ruby or an emerald, the cabochon turquoise was a large example (later on, in the 19th century, it was more usual to find small beads of turquoise set in silver or pinchbeck as well as gold). It was understood that the simple and elegant ring would have been appropriate and befitting of Jane Austen’s status as a member of the Hampshire gentry.

The Committee noted the extreme scarcity of objects associated with Jane Austen. The two pieces of jewellery on display at Jane Austen’s House Museum together with the novelist’s writing slope held by the British Library were the most notable. It was agreed that this elegant and evocative object would be of interest to a wide range of people and that it contained the potential for further research. 

The Committee then voted on whether the ring met the Waverley criteria. All eleven members voted that it met the first Waverley criterion. No members voted that it met the second Waverley criterion. One member voted that it met the third Waverley criterion. The ring was therefore found to meet the first Waverley criterion. The Committee then recommended that the sum of £152,450 was a fair matching price and agreed to recommend to the Secretary of State that the decision on the export licence should be deferred for an initial period of two months for that price to be met by public appeal but if, within that period, the Arts Council England received notification of a serious intention to raise funds with a view to making an offer to purchase the ring, the Committee recommended that there should be a further deferral period of three months. The  Jane Austen House Museum launched an appeal to keep the ring in the UK, in line with the terms of the temporary export ban.

And in the first few days of the appeal it soon became apparent that the Museum would succeed; an anonymous donation of £100,000 was made, and the rest of the money soon followed within a month. The ring was therefore saved for the nation and will go on show at the Musuem sometime next year.

Kelly Clarkson was very gracious about it all and issued a statement saying:

The ring is a beautiful national treasure and I am happy to know that so many Jane Austen fans will get to see it.

It seems she was so enamoured of it however, that she commissioned a replica, or something approaching it: the eagle-eyed amongst us spotted her wearing it when she sang at President Obama’s inauguration in January.

Kelly Clarkson wearing her replica Jane Austen turquoise ring at President Obama's Inauguration.

Kelly Clarkson wearing her replica Jane Austen turquoise ring at President Obama’s Inauguration.©BBC

Isabella of the excellent The Two Nerdy History Girls blog wrote this interesting post comparing the tone of the reporting of the story on both sides of the Atlantic. It is sad but true that the reporting on both sides of the pond left much to be desired, in my humble opinion. So, to conclude… Kelly Clarkson has been recompensed, the ring has been saved and will now go on display at Chawton Cottage. All very neat…but….I feel some real unease about all this. Whilst I appreciate that there are few objects associated with Jane Austen on public display, this item only recently came to our attention. It is not, as far as I am aware, mentioned in any of Jane’s letters, nor did she make mention of any similar ring in her writings. Unlike her topaze cross which is on display at Chawton, together with a similar one given to Cassandra Austen.

The topaz crosses owned by Cassandra and Jane Austen now on display at the Jane Austen house Musuem ©Hampshire County Council

The topaz crosses owned by Cassandra and Jane Austen now on display at the Jane Austen house Musuem ©Hampshire County Council

These are, without doubt, very important items. A symbol of Jane’s very fervent faith and of fraternal love, it was clearly highly prized by her. As you probably know these crosses were purchased by Jane’s younger brother, Charles, as gifts for his elder sisters, Jane and Cassandra. He purchased them while he was serving in the Royal Navy and was involved in the capture of a French ship. He received a share of the prize money associated with this capture and used the money to buy the crosses for his sisters. As Jane Austen wrote in her letter to Cassandra of the 27th May, 1801:

Charles… has received £30 for his share of the privateer, and expects £10 more- but of what avail is it to take prizes if he lays out the produce in presents to his Sisters? He has been buying gold chains and topaze crosses for us- he must be well scolded…

Jane Austen seems to have been so understandably touched by this magnificent gesture that some years later she recreated the event in her novel, Mansfield Park. Her heroine, Fanny Price, receives an amber cross from her sailor brother, William:

The ball was now a settled thing, and before the evening a proclaimed thing to all whom it concerned. Invitations were sent with despatch, and many a young lady went to bed that night with her head full of happy cares as well as Fanny. To her the cares were sometimes almost beyond the happiness; for young and inexperienced, with small means of choice and no confidence in her own taste, the “how she should be dressed” was a point of painful solicitude; and the almost solitary ornament in her possession, a very pretty amber cross which William had brought her from Sicily, was the greatest distress of all, for she had nothing but a bit of ribbon to fasten it to; and though she had worn it in that manner once, would it be allowable at such a time in the midst of all the rich ornaments which she supposed all the other young ladies would appear in? And yet not to wear it! William had wanted to buy her a gold chain too, but the purchase had been beyond his means, and therefore not to wear the cross might be mortifying him. These were anxious considerations; enough to sober her spirits even under the prospect of a ball given principally for her gratification.

Mansfield Park, Chapter 26.

There is also a small blue and white beadwork bracelet on show at the Museum, which once belong to Jane Austen.

Jane Austen's beadwork bracelet

Jane Austen’s beadwork bracelet

This is a sweet thing…but we know relatively little about it and its association with Jane Austen, beyond the fact that she owned it. And while I like to see it there, for me it does not have the same resonance as the cross. It is merely something she owned and wore. And that’s my problem with the ring. It was owned by Jane Austen, probably worn by her…and that really is the full sum of it. She didn’t write about it in either books or surviving letters. As far as we know the identity of the person who to gave it to her is unknown. She may even have bought it herself with some of the profits from her novels …but we can’t prove that. And probably never will be able to. The ring’s history of descent through the Austen family is, frankly, as interesting as it gets for me. It does not offer any new insight into Jane Austen’s personality or works. We know she was fashionable person who strove to keep up with trends on a very limited income and appears to have liked jewellery, though she had precious little of it ( admittedly 50% more than we thought 18 months ago).the jewellery she had was not particularly valuable, save for the cross, which without its Austen premium might be valued around the £800-1200 mark (in my humble estimation). So was it wise to spend all that appeal money on saving this ring for a grateful nation? I’m not so sure it was. And might it have been better for Kelly Clarkson to  been able to keep it? I tend towards that view. Despise me if you dare.

I was having a discussion on video production quality of movies these days with my friend who runs a Calgary based video production company, and he pointed out, and you may care to know that Simon Langton, shown below talking to Lucy Scott the actress who played Charlotte Lucas, and who was

Simon Langton from the book,

Simon Langton from the book,”The Making of Pride and Prejudice” by Sue Birtwistle and Susie Conklin

the director of the BBC’s 1995 production of Pride and Pejudice starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, is going to give a talk about that experience at Chawton House on the 18th April at 7p.m.

Here are all the details from the Chawton House press release:

To Celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice acclaimed film and TV director Simon Laongton will discuss directing the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and prejudice starring COlin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, for which he was nominated for a BAFTA, as well as other costume dramas which he has been involved with throughout his prolific career. Simon Langton was nominated for both a BAFTA award in the UK and an Emmy award in the USA for his 1982 dramatisation of the John le Carré novel, Simley’s People. He later won a BAFTA award for the 1989 series, Mother Love, starring Diana Rigg. Other productions include The Scarlet Pimpernel; Upstairs Downstairs; Jeeves and Wooster; the Duchess of Duke Street and Anna Karenina with Christopher Reeve. He continues to direct British drama, most recently with a number of episodes of Rosemary and Thyme, Foyles War and Midsomer Murders. An intimate supper with Simon Langton at Chawton House Library will follow the lecture; tickets are
available for the lecture or lecture with supper.

If you want to book tickets for the lecture, or lecture and supper then please do contact Chawton House at Chawton House Library,
Chawton, Alton, Hampshire, GU34 1SJ; Tel: 01420 541010

On Monday evening BBC 1’s The One Show had a typically different take on the celebrations for the bicentenary of the first publication of Pride and Prejudice. They broadcast a small item, presented by the comedian Arthur Smith, about Martha Lloyd’s Household Book and the type of food eaten by Jane Austen at Chawton Cottage.

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Arthur visited what is now the Jane Austen’s House Museum, and was shown the Household Book on display there.

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This recipes and remedies in this book were collected by Martha Lloyd, a long-standing friend of the family and who lived with the Austen ladies after her mother’s death. She eventually married one of Jane’s brothers, Francis. She was very close to Jane , and when reading Jane’s letters to her, the evidence is that she was, in my humble opinion, “almost another sister” and worthy of the epithet.

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The book  is a fascinating document. It is in manuscript, and the entries are written in many different hands. The book is full of recipes, household mixes and medicinal cures, and many Austen family members and friends contributed recipes to it. As a result we have a rather good idea of the type of food that was eaten at the cottage while Jane Austen was alive.

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Arthur was given three dishes to eat, which were all prepared at the Pump Room in Bath, which now houses a restaurant, and was accompanied and advised by the food historian, Holly Newton.

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Appropriately, he ate White Soup, as supplied by Mr Bingley to his guests at the Netherfield Ball in Pride and Prejudice

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Jugged Beef Steaks with potatoes…….

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and Gooseberry Tart. It was a good section of the programme, though brief, and was a welcome alternative to the diet of “wet shirt ” admiration that some programmes fed to us! it was quite seriously undertaken, and was not at all frivolous. Replete with details of Jane’s life and how differently food was prepared and eaten during the early 19th century, I confess, I enjoyed it.

You have five days left to view the item on the BBC iPlayer, here, and the item began at approximately 23 minutes and 30 seconds into the programme.

This morning, while eating my toast and marmalade, I heard this entertaining Audio Boo clip ,which was part of BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House programme.

©BBC

©BBC

Written by the witty Sue Limb and performed by Timothy West,it is a three-minute long letter, giving us Mr Bennet’s perspective on 200 years of Pride and Prejudice, Austen mania ( and the never-ending related retail opportunities that seem to follow ) plus the effects of being married to Mrs Bennet for two centuries…..Go here to listen.

Tomorrow is the start of the celebrations.I will be posting here and all over the world celebrations will be taking place. A readathon of the novel will be taking place at the Jane Austen Centre in Bat( though do note that there will also be one at Jane Austen’s House in Chawton on the 17th May, which I will be attending)… the excitement mounts…..here we go…

This week’s edition of BBC2’s The Culture Show, presented by the delicious Andrew Graham-Dixon, has a wonderful, small section( just over 5 minutes long) presented by Professor John. Filmed on location at  Chawton House on a very snowy day,  he talks about Pride and Prejudice and the different adaptations that have been made  of the novel – all nine of them- and it is a thoughtful, sensible essay, pointing out that the adaptations, in the main, reflect the times in which they were made.

John Mullan at a snowy Chawton House

John Mullan at a snowy Chawton House

The whole  episode of The Culture Show is available to watch via the BBC iPlayer for the next seven days (and sadly this will only be available to this of you in the UK) here,  but… hurrah and huzzah…  the BBC has provided a clip of the entire  essay on Pride and Prejudice from the programme which can be accessed by everyone ( or so I assume) via this link  on their website here , Our Love Affair with Pride and Prejudice.  I do hope you will watch it and enjoy it.

If you would like to enter the Give-away Competition organised to celebrate the first anniversary of the Jane Austen’s House Museum’s blog then you have until the end of today 17th January to enter. You can do so by adding a comment to this post linked here.

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The lucky winner will be announced next week, and the prize is a beautifully presented facsimile first edition of Jane Austen’s first published novel, Sense and Sensibility.

Good luck to everyone who enters!

This will be my last post this year, and I thought it rather appropriate to pay a quick  visit St Nicholas’ Parish Church, Chawton.

The Finger Post in the Village ©Austenonly

The Finger Post in Chawton village ©Austenonly

Chawton village has many treasures…The Jane Austen House Museum, the Chawton House Library, once the home of her lucky brother, Edward Knight and to various other members of her family, and the parish church, which though terribly altered since Jane worshipped there, does retain the memorials to her mother and her sister who are buried in its graveyard.

This post is not meant to be an exhaustive history of the church and its memorials( l hope to come back to it next year, perhaps) but I thought you might like to see the final resting place of Mrs. Austen and Cassandra, Jane Austen’s most beloved elder sister.

Chawton House ©Austenonly

Chawton House ©Austenonly

The church is about half a mile from Jane Austen’s House, set along the drive to Chawton House itself,  just off what once was the Gosport Road. Jane Austen would have passed it every time she went to visit her relatives there, and of course it was in this church that she  worshipped while she was resident in Chawton.

St Nicholas' Parish Church, Chawton.©Austenonly

St Nicholas’ Parish Church, Chawton.©Austenonly

it is believed that a church has stood on the site of the present parish church since at least 1270.  However a disastrous fire in 1871 effectively destroyed the whole building except for the chancel so that the present nave, north aisle, vestry and tower date only from around the rebuilding that took place  between 1872 to 1873.

The Interior of St Nicholas' Parish Church, Chawton ©Austenonly

The Interior of St Nicholas’ Parish Church, Chawton ©Austenonly

Luckily, many of the early memorials were saved and are still displayed on the walls. The ones that concern us today are set on the west wall of the entrance to the Chancel, one to the right and one to the left.

Mrs Austen's Memorial in St Nicholas parish Church, Chawton ©Austenonly

Mrs Austen’s Memorial in St Nicholas parish Church, Chawton ©Austenonly

Mrs Austen’s memorial is very factual, and there are some notable omissions. Here is the wording:

In Memory of

Cassandra Austen

daughter of the late

Reverend Thomas Leigh

Rector of Harpsden Oxfordshire

and relict of the Late

Reverend George Austen

Rector of Steventon Hants

She died this 18th day of January 1827

aged 87 years

Leaving four sons

and one daughter surviving namely

Edward Knight 

of Chawton House in this Parish

Henry Thomas Austen

Francis William Austen

Charles John Austen and

Cassandra Elizabeth Austen

who have inscribed this tablet

to the Memory of

an Affectionate and Beloved Parent.

Jane Austen predeceased her mother by nearly 10 years, and this may explain why she was not included, but George Austen, who lived apart from his family due to his various disabilities, was still alive. He did not die until 1838, but was also omitted from this memorial.

The other memorial is to Cassandra Austen:

Cassandra Austen's Memorial  in St Nicolas' Church, Chawton.©Austenonly

Cassandra Austen’s Memorial in St Nicolas’ Church, Chawton.©Austenonly

They are buried in the churchyard, near to the south wall of the nave,where it meets the chancel:

The Austen Graves in St Nicholas' Churchyard, Chawton ©Austenonly

The Austen Graves in St Nicholas’ Churchyard, Chawton ©Austenonly

Here is Mrs. Austen’s grave:

Cassandra Austen's Grave ©Austenonly

Mrs Austen’s Grave ©Austenonly

And next to it is the same sort of simple gravestone to Cassandra Austen:

Cassandra Austen's Grave ©Austenonly

Cassandra Austen’s Grave ©Austenonly

And so, they rest together in the village that bought them both security and peace.

That ends my postings for this year.Its been a busy one, and next year –the Year of Pride and Prejudice- promises to be very busy and , hopefully, interesting. I do hope you will join me on our journey around all the places mentioned in the novel and down along the by-ways of interesting social history points raised by the novel.

All it remains me to say,  is to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year, and that hope you will allow me to

Sincerely hope your Christmas may abound in the gaieties which that

season generally brings

A few weeks ago I wrote that Chawton House Library were about to launch a new website. It is now live and ready for you to explore.

Chawton House Library’s New Website

Go here to see it in all its newly-minted glory. The online novels are there in full and there is a wonderful picture gallery to bring back memories or  to give those of you who have not been lucky enough to visit the Chawton home of Jane Austen’s brother, Edward ( and yes, it was also ocassoinally occupied by Frank Austen and his family )some idea of how quietly spectacular it all is.

Eleanor Marsden, the Director of Development, has asked me to mention a very special project that the Library is currently working upon. They are  raising funds to restore a rather beautiful and intricate sampler in their collection, shown below.  It dates from 1830 and was stitched by Mary Pennington aged only 10 years, as Instructed by Mrs Stubbs:

The Chawton Sampler

As they write on the appeals page:

The Pennington sampler is an asset to the Library as we seek to contextualise the education of the period and C.18 women’s literature held here; its maker’s proficiency at age ten speaks volumes about how she filled her time, her accomplishments, tastes, and her interests.  The sampler also sits alongside portraits of other accomplished women of the period, and re-values work produced in the home by placing it alongside work produced professionally by writers and painters. 

Our object collections are fundamental to contextualising the literature – and vice versa – and with a number of C.18 miscellanies in the literary collection, the sampler by Mary Pennington is a beautiful and rare example of domestic work by a  young woman of the long eighteenth century. 

If you would like to help them with any donations to fund this project, then do go here to their fund raising page. You have to agree, this sampler is very fine, and would probably out do poor Charlotte Palmer’s effort -a landscape of silks -which was hung  in her old bedroom in Mrs. Jennings’ house in Town, as proof of her rather expensive, and, it is implied by Jane Austen, rather useless education:

It had formerly been Charlotte’s, and over the mantlepiece still hung a landscape in coloured silks of her performance, in proof of her having spent seven years at a great school in town to some effect.

Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 26.

I was lucky enough to visit this very fascinating exhibition at Chawton House Library on Friday.

Chawton House Library

It is based around a the discovery of a fascinating document, the sale catalogue of the bookseller, John Burdon who had premises in College Street, Winchester. When he died in 1803 , his sons failed to carry on his business and thus his entire stock was sold at auction in 1807.  By studying the catalogue- which lists over 5,000 individual titles- we can deduce what reading material was available to his customers in Winchester and the surrounding area.

We can also deduce what Jane Austen might then have read and had access to, in addition to the books we know she referenced in her novels and letters.Burdon was entitled to be called the Austen family’s bookseller, because it would appear they had an account at the shop. In her letter to Cassandra Austen, her sister, of the 25th November 1798 she makes the following comment, referring to her father’s account at Burdon’s bookshop:

We have got “Fitz Albini”; my father has bought it against my private wishes, for it does not quite satisfy my feelings that we should purchase the only one of Egerton’s works of which his family are ashamed. That these scruples, however, do not at all interfere with my reading it, you will easily believe. We have neither of us yet finished the first volume. My father is disappointed — I am not, for I expected nothing better. Never did any book carry more internal evidence of its author. Every sentiment is completely Egerton’s. There is very little story, and what there is is told in a strange, unconnected way. There are many characters introduced, apparently merely to be delineated. We have not been able to recognise any of them hitherto, except Dr. and Mrs. Hey and Mr. Oxenden, who is not very tenderly treated…We have got Boswell’s “Tour to the Hebrides” and are to have his “Life of Johnson”; and, as some money will yet remain in Burdon’s hands, it is to be laid out in the purchase of Cowper’s works. 

The exhibit very carefully leads the visitor around the story of what could be available to purchase in a provincial booksellers like Burdons. And the choice was surprisingly vast and varied:  local authors, international big hitters, travel journals, political treaties, theological works, poetry, fiction, plays. And not all of this material was produced in London and distributed locally by the bookshop, after ordering them from catalogues. Burdon was a producer as well as a supplier. He supplied newspapers, pamphlets, single volumes, and lavishly produced multi volume sets. Neither was he alone: Winchester had several booksellers, stationers, bookbinders, private libraries and circulating libraries. The press that printed the weekly-produced Hampshire Chronicle from 1778 was on show in the Oak Room,which you can just make out in the photograph below, to the right.

The Display in The Oak Room at Chawton House Library

The exhibit was set out in two rooms at Chawton House: the Oak Room, where part of the room was set up as a Gentleman’s Library of the period…

The Table Display in the Oak Room

…his desk chair  left momentarily empty as he is seemingly suddenly called away from his books…

The Table Display in the Oak Room

And then the Map Room….

The Displays in the Map Room

The “hands-on” Table Display in the Map Room

where, in addition to the intriguing displays set around the walls, the central table was invitingly set with some 18th and early 19th century  examples of the books that the Austens might have read. Such as the  works of the poet, William Cowper, the purchase of which was anticipated by Jane Austen in her letter to Cassandra, above.

Poems by William Cowper in Two Volumes

And the table was also set with the wonderfully refreshing invitation to Touch the Books

An Encouraging Notice in the Map Room

Each book was accompanied by a laminated card printed with thought-provoking statements and  questions relating to each book.

The Young Misses Magazine

One of my favourite books on show was the Winchester College Borrowers Book, below

The Winchester College Borrowers Book

The Librarian at the College would carefully record each book borrowed by each Fellow, making it possible for the researchers to attempt to discern the individual reader’s taste and habits. The page was open at the page recoding the borrowings of George Isaac Huntingford,who seems mostly to have preferred theological works. The catalogue of Mr Burdon’s stock was on display via a slideshow on a monitor in the Oak Room: I was glad to see  John Baskerville well represented ( and do note you can enlarge any of these photographs, in order to read the details, simply by clicking on them):

The Digital Slide Show of a “Catalogue of the Stock in Trade of the Late Mr Burdon, Bookseller (1807)”

I do hope this is available either to purchase or view online soon, as it would be wonderful to speculate about the type of books Jane Austen might have purchased and not mentioned in her letters….

And in the famous alcove in the Oak Room,  The Winchester Bindery, which operates from the current P. and G. Wells bookshop in Winchester, where Mr Burdon had his premises in the late 18th century…

The famous alcove in the Oak Room where Jane Austen is reputed to have enjoyed sitting

produced an explanatory display about the bookbinders art, which included some 18th century tools – see the mind-blowingly large set of card cutters, below:

Display of Bookbinding Tools and Materials, including the enormous Card Cutters

How many children were employed in the use of these, I wonder ?…The exhibition,which runs until Friday afternoon does have a simply produced but very informative catalogue, which is  reasonably available at the cost of £1.

The Exhibition Catalogue

I do hope some of you will manage to get to this exhibition. It is very illuminating, and shows that though a family like the Austens might live in a remote and tiny village like Steventon, provided they had some spare money for books, they could keep up to date with the latest fashions in literature and be kept well supplied with news items. They would not want for variety, and would not have to rely upon London booksellers to supply their wants.
I really enjoyed the exhibit, and would like to thank Eleanor Marsden for her hospitality and Christopher Knight who was a very sensitive, patient and kind steward of the rooms as I wondered around the displays, squeaking
( very quietly, mind)  in delighted surprise at the depth and inviting nature of the exhibits.

Eleanor Marsden, the Development Officer at Chawton House Library, has kindly allowed us a teaser, a sneak preview of their  new website:

The New Chawton House Library Website ©ChawtonHouseLibrary

It will be launched at the end of July, and looks very different from their current website, below, I’m sure you will agree.

Chawton House Library Website ©ChawtonHouse Library

I’m looking forward to examining it in detail, as I’m sure there are treasures waiting to be found within its digital pages! It will be at the same address, http://www.chawton.org/ so do keep an eye open for it.

Chawton House Library is currently staging an intriguing exhibition entitled, Jane Austen’s Bookshop.

A result of a joint research project by the University of Winchester, California State University Long Beach and Chawton House itself, the exhibition provides a detailed look at the stock of John Burdon’s bookshop in Winchester, which was open for business during Jane Austen’s life time in College Street, Winchester.  As the University of Winchester website tells us:

The exhibition provides, for the first time, a snapshot of a complete catalogue of printed material which was available at John Burdon’s bookshop in Winchester during Jane Austen’s lifetime. Burdon’s was used by the Austen family as well as other influential writers of the period and was based in College Street, now the home of Wells Bookshop.

P and G Wells is a favourite bookshop of mine. They have always stocked rare to find Jane Austen-related material, and in the dark days before the online buying of books was easily transacted, you could always reply on them to send books to you via their excellent mail order service.

P and G Wells Bookshop,College Street, Winchester ©Austenonly

One of those rare survivors, an independent bookshop, P. and G. Wells still offer a fine service to their customers, all over the world, and, of course, an additional link to Jane Austen is that their premises are situated on College Street in Winchester, a few doors away from the house where it is thought that Jane Austen died, below…

Number 8, College Street, Winchester ©Austenonly

and  they are also in the same street as Winchester College, below, where many of Jane’s nephews were educated:

Winchester College,College Street, Winchester. ©Austenonly

The big breakthrough which inspired much of  the research was made by Dr. Norbert Schürer, a visiting Leverhulme Fellow at Winchester who specialises in studying the work of women writers of the eighteenth century.  He found the bookseller’s catalogue which dates from 1807.  As he explains:

I was researching eighteenth-century print culture in Winchester.One of the first things I did was to identify Burdon’s bookshop by putting research from other critics together. Then quite by chance, I discovered that the bookshop had been sold in 1807 with a complete catalogue, giving us the name of every single book in the store.

The catalogue apparently contains details of all the books stocked by John Burdon in 1807 : they include novels, biographies, travel narratives as well as travel guides, journals and periodicals, theological literature, sermons, poetry and a wealth of other reading matter. The exhibition will explore how readers and writers in Winchester shared printed material in the early 19th century, and it focuses on publications made by scholars at Winchester College, annual reports from the County Hospital, and advertisements and reviews in local newspapers like the Hampshire Chronicle.  It is open weekdays, 10am-4pm, from Tuesday 19 June to Friday 6 July.

I am lucky enough to be in Chawton this weekend, and if I manage to get to the exhibition, I will, of course, report back to you, but I should think that many of you in the area will be making plans to visit it. It sounds totally fascinating.

Mr Brodnax Moore, the grandson of Mr. and Mrs. George Brook Knight, has very kindly made available to us a PDF. file of the booklet which was produced to mark the unveiling of the Centenary Tablet on Chawton Cottage (now the Jane Austen House Museum) in 1917.

This is the cover of the original booklet:

The Cover of the Jane Austen Centenary Booklet

The booklet, now quite a rare  find in antiquarian bookshops, contains details of the unveiling ceremony, with photographs and the text of the speeches.  Constance Hill, who wrote Jane Austen, Her Home and Her Friends,(1902) and her sister, Ellen G. Hill were the prime movers in the desire to erect a tablet on the cottage, and helped form a committee to raise the necessary funds.  They wished to commemorate the fact that this was the house where Jane Austen had lived and worked.  At that time in the early 20th century the house was still in the ownership of the Knight family and was part of the Chawton estate. It was not open to the public, and the formation of the Jane Austen Society was some decades away. This booklet records, therefore, the beginnings of the interest in Jane Austen’s life, times and works which continues today.

Ellen Hill designed the tablet, shown below, which can still be seen on the house today, and its interesting symbolism is explained in the booklet.

The Jane Austen Centenary Memorial Tablet, in situ at Jane Austen’s House. ©Austenonly

If you would like to read the booklet, or download it to keep on your computer, then you may by clicking on this link, below, which will take you directly to the file.

Jane Austen Centenary Booklet

I’m sure you will all want to thank Mr. Moore for this very kind and generous gift to us. The original booklet was found by him in one of his grandmother’s albums. She and her husband lived at the Great House, now know as Chawton House Library, below, in the 1930s.

Chawton House, Hampshire. ©Austenonly

He very carefully constructed the PDF file directly from it. I am very grateful to him for making this available to us all, and for his thoughtfulness. So, please, do enjoy reading this interesting item.

As we edge ever nearer to the celebrations for Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, I thought you might like to read about a Jubilee that Jane Austen experienced. I’m in the middle of preparations for my family’s celebrations this weekend, so instead of a few posts, published over a few days I thought you wouldn’t object to me posting one long post about the topic.

George III from “The Life of Princess Charlotte” ©Austenonly

The celebrations for George III’s Golden Jubilee became the template for all our other jubilees, and it is interesting to see just how similar our experiences are. George III’s jubilee was the first time since James I’s reign that a Jubilee had been celebrated. The Jubilee has  religious origins, and the celebrations are based on this passage from the Bible:

A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed.

(Leviticus 25:10)

King George came to the throne on 25th October 1760. Not many English monarchs had celebrated 50 years on the throne, and we have no records of how theKings up to this date-  Henry III, Edward III and James I had celebrated this rare event. George III’s celebrations appear to be the first to be celebrated on a nation-wide basis, and set a pattern that has been followed in British Jubilee celebrations ever since. We know a lot about the early 19th century celebrations because they are recorded, in greater detail,  in a book:

“An Account of the Celebration of the Jubilee on the 25th October 1809 for the Forty-Ninth Anniversary of the Reign of George III” The Father of his People, Collected and Published by A Lady (The Wife of a Naval Officer)

This is a fascinating volume and was reprinted in a second edition in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, giving those who wanted to organise celebratory events then a good idea of what had gone on 70 years before. Go here to read it on Google Books. The Entry for Basingstoke in Hampshire is interesting. It gives a glimpse of what was going on in that area on the 25th Octiber, and many of the name s mentioned will be familiar to you:

Not less than one thousand persons (comprehending the indigent of both sexes and all ages) were liberally treated with an amplitude of wholesome viands, accompanied with ten hogsheads of strong beer, at Lord Bolton’s seat at Hackwood . Mr Chute, COl Jervoise,Mr Wither, Mr Blackburn, Mr Harwood and other neighbouring gentlemen,emulated each other on the joyful occasion, in similar acts of liberality. The day was introduced by a ball and cold collation on the preceding night,at which all the neighbouring gentry were present. The religious service of the day was attended by The Mayor and Corporation, the North Hants Cavalry and Basingstoke Infantry; when an excellent sermon was preached by the Rev. Mr. Russell Curate of Basingstoke; a liberal subscription was raised for the indigent ands the day concluded with a public dinner, at the Town Hall, attended by the Mayor and Corporation, the North Hants Corps and many of the neighbouring gentlemen,where the utmost harmony and  festivity prevailed to a late hour.

But for Jane Austen it appears to have been rather a quiet day. Not, I hasten to add, that we know much about what she did or thought of the celebrations for, as she and Cassandra were together, there would be no reason for her to record her thoughts in a letter and no pocket book survives. However, we do know that on the 24th October 1809, the day before the date for the official celebrations of George III’s Jubilee,  Mary Austen, James Austen’s wife  (he was Jane Austen’s eldest brother and had succeeded his father as Rector of Steventon)  attended a Golden Jubilee ball at Basingstoke.

Edward Knight, Jane Austen’s lucky brother who was adopted by the wealthy Knights, was in Chawton, at the cottage with Jane Austen, Cassandra and Mrs Austen. Fanny Knight, his eldest daughter, made this entry in her pocket-book for the 25th October, which was the day  the Jubilee was officially celebrated:

Papa came back to breakfast & brought not a very good account of George. The Jubilee on act. of the dear old King’s 50th accession day. No very grand doings here.We all dined with Mrs F. A.(Frank Austen’s wife-jfw) except G.M. & Charles. I spent the morng. there whilst Papa, Aunts C and Jane called at Froyle.

So, at Chawton, not much was going on. Edward Knight had a tenant, Mr Middleton, who was in residence at Chawton House and so Edward could not host any land-lordly festivities there. Unlike at Steventon,  where the Digweeds, the local squires, gave a dinner for the poor of the parish,which was held in their barn on their estate.

So…what was going on in the rest of the country. At Windsor the Royal Family attended a service of Thanksgiving at St. George’s Chapel: you can see the roof of the chapel to the right of the round tower in my print, below:

Windsor Castle,1803.

George III was blind and ill at this stage in his life, and was anxious about the health of his daughter Princess Amelia. She was taken seriously ill on the day of the Jubilee celebrations( the 25th October )and died on the 2nd November 1809. At Batchelor’s Acre at Windsor a giant ox and some mutton were begin roasted for the benefit of the poor, but in the morning of the 25th October Queen Charlotte and many of the other members of the royal family arrived at 10.30 a.m to taste the beef:

Fifty Batchelors were ready, at the outside of the gate, which opens to the Acre: and when the royal party descended from the stand, guarded them at the fire-place, where the ox was roasting; they then proceeded to view the construction of the grates and walls for roasting the ox, which were so well contrived as to roast two whole sheep at the same time, and then returned to the booth. The butchers employed in managing the cooking of the whole animals, were dressed upon the occasion in blue frocks and silk stockings: they cut the first prime pieces from the ox and sheep, and put them upon silver plates, and the bachelors and butchers waited upon the royal party with them. They all tasted and appeared highly pleased with the novelty.

Then, after the Thanksgiving service in St George’s Chapel had taken place, Queen Charlotte returned for a second helping, with the Duke of Sussex and the Duke of Clarence:
The Duke of Sussex, with his hat off, held the 
tray from which Queen took two or three pieces of beef and bread. The Duke of Clarence distributed the plum pudding.’ 
Eventually in 1810, an obelisk was erected on Batchelor’s Acre to commemorate the Jubilee, and you can still see it there now.
Many landlords held similar events on their estates. In Castle Bromwich in Warwickshire the poor were given blankets and coal. And in Meriden, again in Warwickshire, the squire gave each inhabitant  a loaf of bread, a pint of strong ale  and a share of the 3000 lbs of fat ox beef, which had been roasted in a grand public celebration similar to the event  held at Batchelor’s Acre. In London there were fireworks and illuminations:

The Rejoicings, Fireworks and Illuminations in the City 1809

 I love the idea of illuminations -lots of tiny lamps set in pattens on buildings or in windows. The façade of the bank of England, as designed by Sir John Soane,  was arrayed with them to celebrate the Jubilee:

Jubilee Illuminations at The Bank of England, 1809.

They spelt out “God Save the King” as you can see below:

“God Save the King” illuminations on the Bank of England , 1809

and the illuminations also were arranged in the shape of trophies

Side Screen Illuminations

I think we forget how spectacular these illuminations must have seems to people at a time when candlelight was rare and expensive. I think the city, lit like this, must have looked fantastic.
In other towns thanksgiving services were held, together with dinners in hotels and inns. In Birmingham a statue of Admiral Nelson by Sir Richard Westmacott was unveiled. This was paid for by public subsection and was the first public tribute  featuring the hero of Trafalgar to be erected in England.

Nelson by Westmacott in Birmingham’s City Centre. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

At Weymouth, the seaside town where George III and his family and enjoyed many summers, the extraordinary, multicoloured statue of George II was commissioned and erected:
So…the tradition of commissioning and erecting pieces of public art to celebrate Jubilees began, and continues to this day.
If you wanted a more personal momento of the day, then there were many souvenirs you could buy: and they have many resonances with the commemoratives you can buy today. For example, you could buy pottery souvenirs as in this punch bowl:

Jubilee Punch Bowl ©Tooveys

Or you could drink a toast to  the King’s heath in an appropriately engraved rummer:

A rummer to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of George III ©Christies

Or, purchase a silver medal:

Jubilee Medal by Wyon issued by James Bissett of Birmingham 1809

Children were not forgotten. An improving, educational game was created and one survives in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum:

The Jubilee: An Interesting Game 1810

 This game was published by John Harris in 1810, and was advertised as follows:
This Game may be considered as a Continuation of one published a few years back, entitled HISTORICAL PASTIMES OF ENGLAND, which commenced at the Conquest and ended at the Accession of his present Majesty. where that left off, this begins; and it is hoped that the Events recorded (and surely an eventful Reign it has been) will create a lively interest in the breast of every Juvenile Briton; it is continued to the 25th of October 1809, the day our revered Sovereign entered the Fiftieth year of his Reign, and a Day of Jubilee in every part of his Dominions. The writer of this has only to unite his wishes with those of his fellow subjects, that our good King may long continue to be the Ruler, as he has hitherto been the Father of a free and generous People.

Centrepiece from “The Jubilee: An Interesting Game” published by John Harris 1810

Here are the rules, which seem complicated, but perhaps the mist clears once the game is in progress!
RULES AND DIRECTIONS FOR PLAYING THE JUBILEE 
In playing this Game, a teetotum of eight sides is made use of, together with six counters of different colours, as markers, to avoid confusion in telling the game. Each player should also be provided with about two dozen of counters, on which a nominal value should be set, that any player who happens to be out, may purchase of the winners. 
If more than six persons sit down to play, a greater number of markers may be cut out of card, and distinguished by figures, as may be agreed on. 
Each player proceeds in the game according to the numbers he spins, and pays the fine, or receives the reward appointed. Advances are made by adding the figure turned to that on which the marker stands. 
Should any player spin a number on which there is already a marker, he must take its place and the other must move one forward. 
Any player taking more than his due, must go back as many numbers as he took. If he take too few, and the next player have spun, he must remain where he was. 
Whatever fines are marked in the list of numbers, must be put into the pool, and the first who makes exactly 150, or `The Jubilee’ wins the game; but if he happens to spin above that number, he must go back as may from 150 as he spun beyond it, till he or some one else wins the pool and its contents. 
Persons going backward in the game are exempted from the fines attached to the figures on which they be obliged to rest. 
EXAMPLE 
Suppose John, Thomas and James play the game; James chooses a white marker, Thomas a red and john a green one; James by agreement spins first; and finding the uppermost number of the teetotum to be 2, he places his Marker on the Funeral of George the Second. Thomas spins next, No. 8, and places his mark on the Birth of the Prince of Wales. John next turns No 1 and places his mark on the Proclamation of George the Third. James then plays again, and spins No. 8 which being added to 2, his former number, sends him forward to the Commitment of Wilkes to the Tower, when he is to pay 2 counters to the pool, and go back to No. 1. Thomas spins No. 7 which, added to 8, his former number, brings him to the first meeting of the American Congress. John then spins No. 5, which added to 1, his former number, carries him to the Declaration of War against Spain and pays two counters to the Pool. Again James spins No. 5, which authorises him to take the station occupied by Thomas’s mark. Thomas therefore moves to No. 16; and John having spun No. 3 moves to No. 9.
 And, again  in common with this year’s celebrations, you could sing special Jubilee songs composed especially for the event.  Go here to read more about them:

The Kings Anthem for the Golden Jubilee of George III in 1809

And if you wanted to celebrate, quietly at home, you could by creating Jubilee themed food:  here is an example created by Ivan Day using a creamware mould he thinks was manufactured especially  to celebrate George III’s Jubilee. Note its celebratory wreath of  laurel leaves and George III’s cypher:

Ivan Day’s flummery produced from his creamware mould of 1809, showing the cipher of George III

 Ivan has written a very comprehensive post about Jubilee Food, and the food cooked  at George III’s Golden Jubilee in particular, on his blog: go here to read it.
So there you are. Details of a day that was celebrated in a similar manner to the way we ( or, as some of us, at least) will be celebrating this forthcoming weekend. If you are celebrating along with us, I do hope the weather holds and you have a wonderful time. If not, then I hope you have enjoyed this post, nevertheless.
I’ll be taking a short break to prepare and then rest up, but I’ll be back at the end of next week!

Today I’d like to give you advance notice of a talk to be given by Professor Kathryn Sutherland of St Anne’s College, Oxford University, at Chawton House Library on the 8th May entitled  ‘The Watsons’: Jane Austen Practising.

The Watsons is one of the few remaining manuscripts written in Jane Austen’s hand to survive, and you may recall that it was bought by the Bodleian Library last year, to ensure that it remains in the UK for scholars and Austen enthusiasts to continue to have access to it. You can see it here on the Jane Austen Fiction Manuscripts website.  The only other manuscripts of Jane Austen’s  adult works that survive are the other unfinished fragment, Sanditon, together with the cancelled chapters of Persuasion. Professor Sutherland, below, has made an especial study of Jane Austen’s existing  manuscripts, partly in an attempt to try to decipher her working methods and so her talk promises to be fascinating.

In her book, Jane Austen’s Textual Lives: From Aeschylus to Bollywood,  Professor Sutherland deals with many fascinating subjects, looking anew and in great detail  on aspects of Jane Austen’s life and works we take for granted as having “always been there”, particularly with regard to the censorship of the Austen and Knight families surrounding the release of biographical information. The part of her book I particularly admired  were the chapters where she goes into amazing detail to try to determine how exactly  Jane Austen wrote: how she revised, amended and fiddled with her manuscripts and what processes her works were subjected to before and after they left her care and control. The Professor has been criticised on the internet and in the press for some of her comments regarding Jane Austen’s grammar. In the book, in layman’s terms if you will allow me, Professor Sutherland details how Austen’s later works  were corrected by a series of editors. Some journalists clearly decided that Professor Sutherland was on the side of the editors, and that she  was agreeing with their “attacks” on Austen’s original and idiosyncratic texts. It is my understanding, on reading the book, that nothing could be further from the truth. This brouhaha has sadly detracted from her main argument, which is that Jane Austen’s genius should not and ought not to  have been constrained by the workings of and the unasked for (and in many cases unwarranted) imposition of  a Victorian ( or Edwardian or even modern) man’s idea of correct grammar. And that, in fact, by imposing their own standardised version of correct, written English upon her texts, quite a lot of Jane Austen’s original intent has been diminished as a result.  She conducts a minute forensic  examination of the novels, their publishing history  and the changes various editors have imposed upon Austen( and us). The results will surprise you (and often discomfort). This part of the book is a fascinating and illuminating read. Some of the language used is undoubtedly academic and  it is challenging…but then, why should reading always be a totally effortless pastime?

Reading her book opened my eyes to the terrible power an editor has, especially when the author is not  available to defend her choices. These choices- her use of words, punctuation and grammar- which make perfect sense  in the context of her novel, may be seen as sloppy or careless mistakes to a reader not exactly in tune with the author’s original intent. I had really not considered just how crucial the editorial approach to a text truly is until I had considered the effects on these texts. ( Forgive me, I am not always so dense). This book opened my eyes and made me think critically about the whole process of publishing a book, in detail, for the first time. As a dyslexic with some paralysed fingers, it has taken me years to try to attune myself to grammatical rules, punctuation and spelling: I once had the luxury of secretaries to point me in the right direction but I always had to ensure that their well-meaning additions did not detract from my correct legal turn of phrase. Now spell and grammar checks irritate me in a similar way ;)

I confess I waited to read the paperback edition of her book to be available because the original price for the hardback was prohibitive, and I think much of the outrage written about regarding Professor Sutherland’s comments reveals that  not many of her critics seem to be familiar with the arguments in her book either. On reading her book- which though academic in tone is not inaccessible to the amateur reader of Jane Austen- I promise– it becomes clear that she is firmly on the side of Austen and her creative genius.

The book is available now as a reasonably priced paperback and also as an even more attractively priced Kindle edition. I would urge you to seek it out, and while it is an academic study, its subject matter is so fascinating and revelatory, I am convinced you will find it worthwhile and that it might very well alter your thoughts on Austen’s works and how they are edited .

Back to the Chawton House Lecture. It is to take place on the 8th May and tickets are available from Chawton House Library. Go here to see all the details. I do hope many of you can go along. If you can’t, do try to have sight of Professor Sutherland’s book. I really don’t think you will regret it.

In 2006 I was privileged to see this suit, shown below  in its restored state, just before it went to be stabilised and restored, while I was on a visit to Chawton House Library. It is now the subject of an appeal, for it needs a special display case in order that the public can have access to it, to view it in all its restored glory

©ChawtonHouseLibrary

Chawton House was, of course,  known to Jane Austen as The Great House in Chawton village and  it was once owned by Edward Knight, her brother, shown below in his Grand Tour portrait, which is now also on show at the Library.

Edward inherited the Godmersham estate in Kent and the Chawton estate in Hampshire from Thomas Knight. He was a relative of George Austen, Edward and Jane’s father. Thomas and his wife were childless and had “adopted ” Edward, and made him their heir. This grand inheritance enabled him to provide a productive and happy home for Jane Austen her sister, Cassandra, their mother, Mrs Austen and their friend Martha Lloyd from 1809, at what is now the Jane Austen’s House Museum in the village.

©ChawtonHouseLibrary

This silk suit- a suit of two pieces, frock coat and breeches- has been in the Knight family since the 1790s.

©ChawtonHouseLibrary

It is said to have belonged to Edward, and the suit is now on loan to Chawton House Library by kind permission of Richard Knight, Edward’s descendant. Since I saw it the suit has been restored. Louise  Squire, the textile conservator, prepared a report on it in 2009 and commented:

©ChawtonHouseLibrary

“The matching silk frock coat and breeches are dated to approximately 1789. The coat is fully lined with a yellow silk taffeta fabric,with the sleeves being lined in a white plain weave linen fabric. The olive green breeches are constructed in ribbed silk and feature a wide waistband, loose fitting seat and finish below the knee with narrow cuffs. The coat and breeches are a good example of the fashion of the day, with Edward’s penchant for oversize buttons!”

©ChawtonHouseLibrary

The Library has had a bespoke mannequin made for the suit, which you can see here, below, displaying the restored olive green silk breeches.

©ChawtonHouseLibrary

The suit is very small by modern standards, hence the need for the bespoke mannequin, and it is a fascinating object in its own right, without the added interest of its Austen family connections. For the suit to be put on display and for all us all to be able to enjoy it, it now needs a special conservation-grade display case, not only to display it but to protect it. This will cost around £5000, and the Library  has raised nearly half the sun required for it. But just over half of the sum still needs to be raised, hence their current appeal for funds.

So, if you think you might be able to help the library with financial contributions towards the cost of displaying this very interesting Austen relic,  you can contact Eleanor Marsden, the Development Director, on telephone number 01420-541010 or you can e-mail her on Elanor.marsden@chawton.net, for  she would be delighted to hear from you with any offers of help you can afford to give.

A s you all know, a few weeks ago I paid another visit to Jane Austen’s House Museum.

This is always a treat, but this autumn, which has been long and very beautiful, it was an extra special time  to pay a visit to the stunning Hampshire scenery of the countryside around Chawton.

The autumnal colours of the gently rolling and wooded Hampshire countryside ( while nothing to the colours of a New England autumn ) were very lovely this year. I’ve written about the interior of the house before, so I thought this time I’d share with you my photographs of the garden. As some of you already know, I’m a very keen gardener,and, in fact, began my blogging life with a garden blog, so I always enjoy sitting and looking at this small but beautifully in-keeping and well-tended space.

The garden is to the left and to the rear of the house. On leaving the house the garden beckons, the last roses in bloom around the door invite you to wander…

The day I visited an autumnal cleaning up of the garden was taking place.

I like to see the garden actually being tended and used on a visit: it brings it alive.

The Austen ladies had a view of the garden from the ground floor of the house: the Gothic window on the garden side of the house was opened up and installed for them. You can see it on the left of the house, below.

The old drawing-room window was blocked up before they arrived to take possession of the house..

Chawton Cottage was of course, part of Edward Austen Knight’s  Chawton estate and it was due to his beneficence that  from 1809, the Austen ladies finally lived in a settled home.

The garden is not now how it was when the Austen ladies lived there, but care is taken by the Museum to try to include only plants that would have been available to them.

The view from the house looks out onto an oak tree surrounded by a Regency style tree seat.  This is in fact a seedling from a tree that was originally planted by the Austen ladies when they took possession of Chawton Cottage. Two trees were planted by the wall that forms the boundary of the garden and the road.

These have now been felled due to disease,but Elizabeth Bowden, who was the then curator of the museum on the 1980s, found a seedling from one of the trees near the wall and replanted it here. It is an English oak-Quercus ruber.

A display of plants used in the dying process is also near to the house…

Onions grown for their skins….wihch produce a yellow or rust coloured dye.

Tickseed… which produces a yellow, green or rust coloured dye..

and Madder..which prduces a red dye.

In keeping with the pre-Victorian theme of the garden, the planting includes such cottage garden stalwarts as hollyhock , below…

and fuchsia. Fuchsia magellanica, below, was first introduced into England in 1788,

so it is entirely plausible that  such a plant might have grown in the Austen ladies garden.

To the rear of the garden the herbaceous border sweeps round and on the lawn there is always plenty of comfortable seating.

This is a smashing position in which  to sit in the summer. Quite often the number of summer visitors to the small house  can be rather overwhelming, and it is good to sit here in the garden and take stock.

The beech hedge divides the public from the working part of the garden.

To the rear of the house is a great yew tree, which must surely date from at last the time of the house. At this time of year the red fruits of the yew are very visible

Hers is a very short video of the garden. You will be pleased to note I am taking delivery of a MUCH better camera this week and so, on my next visit,  the photographs and  videos(especially the videos!) will be of a much higher quality. If only the operator were more talented ;)

So that’s it : a short autumnal visit to the garden at Chawton Cottage, Jane Austen’s much-loved Chawton home.

I do hope you have  enjoyed it .

Yesterdays episode of the BBC2 programme, The Antiques Road Trip, a spin-off from the BBC1 programme, Bargain Hunt, was partly filmed in Chawton,

and featured Jane Austen’s House Museum.

I thought you might like to see some images from it.

The programme is a gentle jaunt about the country in the company of two auctioneers/experts who buy and sell antiques on the way, all the profits to benefit charity. The programme makes stops at various spots of interest along the road trip route, and in episode 15 of the third series, Paul Laidlaw took the opportunity to pay a visit to the Jane Austen House Museum.

He was greeted at the door by Louise West, the museum’s curator…

and was taken to see the dining room…

where the tiny but very important table where Jane Austen sat, revised and wrote all six of her finished novels

 

was admired and wondered about.

He also visited the new study area in the museum- which used to house its tiny shop ( now in a much larger and better situation in the restored barn! ) where a first edition copy of Sense and Sensibility– appropriately enough in this its anniversary year- was on show.

If you can try and watch the programme on the BBC Iplayer- it is available for another six days and the Jane Austen House part of the programme  is approximately 25 minutes into the programme. Paul Laidlaw was obviously  quite taken with the museum and asked some interesting questions. Its well worth a look .

Poor Blake Ritson has had to make his excuses and cannot now attend the evening in Chawton on Saturday the 9th April (which is this coming Saturday) as he is now committed to a days filming. But the good news is that Charity Wakefield will be able to attend in his stead and therefore this will be a marvellous opportunity to meet two of the Dashwood sisters as they were portrayed in the latest BBC adaptation of Sense and Sensibility.

Hattie Morahan, shown below in her role as Elinor……

and Charity Wakefield, shown below portraying Marianne

will be meeting everyone  for a pre-performance gathering in the new Learning Centre at the Museum from 7 p.m., and then  they will give a talk followed by a question and answer session at Chawton village Hall. They are both marvellous actors and I’m sure this opportunity to put questions to the Dashwood sisters about their roles, and how they enjoyed playing and interpreting the differences  between the sisters etc  will be one not to miss. The two sisters and their relationships are one of the most interesting aspects of Sense andSensibility to me,and therefore this really is an opportunity not to be missed.

Tickets cost  £17.50 each,  concessions £15.00 (to include pre-performance glass of wine). Under 16 tickets will cost £10.00 each.

Places are very limited so please do telephone the museum to book on  01420 83262 as soon as possible to secure your place.

…then hie thee to Chawton on Saturday the 9th April, when the actors Hattie Morahan( who played Elinor in the BBCs latest production of Sense and Sensibility)  and Blake Ritson ( Edmund in ITVs production of Mansfield Park and the odious Mr Elton in the BBC latest production of Emma) will be paying a visit to the Jane Austen House Museum and  Chawton Village Hall to take part in a very special actors panel entitled  Always Acting a Part: A Panel of Austen Actors


This is a marvellous and rare opportunity to meet these two wonderful actors, to hear their thoughts on playing some of Jane Austen’s most interesting characters and also to put to them any questions you have  as to how they prepared for these roles and also how they interpreted their characters in the recent adaptations.

The Panel Discussion, which is  part of the Jane Austen’s House Museum’s celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s first novel Sense and Sensibility, will take place in Chawton Village Hall and commences at 8.00pm, but before that there will be a Pre-Performance Gathering in the Learning Centre at the Museum from 7.00pm

Tickets are now available to book  from the Jane Austen House Museum at the following prices : £17.50, Concessions £15.00 (to include pre-performance glass of wine). Under 16s £10.00. To book please telephone 01420 83262

And I’d hurry if I were you as I’m sure these tickets will soon be sold out! It’s not every day you have the opportunity to see (and more importantly hear!) Elinor Dashwood, Edmund Bertram and Mr Elton in the same room…;)


Today I have something really special to offer you, an interview with Louise West, who has recently been appointed as the Curator of the Jane Austen House Museum at Chawton. She has succeeded the redoubtable and rather wonderful Mr Tom Carpenter in the role and was the Education Officer at the Museum for many years prior to this appointment.

A few weeks ago I asked Louise if she would give us an interview, for I knew you would like to get to know her a little better, especially as she is the person who is now caring for Jane Austen’s very important Chawton Home. Amazingly, she agreed to do it….

So, here it is. I do hope you find it interesting.

**************************************

Louise, you have worked at the Jane Austen’s House Museum for some years, first as the education officer and now as the curator, can you tell us when and how you first become interested in Jane Austen?

I was aware of her from a very young age and in my bedroom there was a copy of Pride and Prejudice with illustrations by Brock which my mother had received as a school prize in the 1930’s.  I first read beyond Chapter One when I was 15 (tried at 12 and got nowhere) and have been hooked ever since.

This is the question most Janeites hate, because it is almost unanswerable, but I’ll ask it anyway: which is your favourite Jane Austen novel and why?

Emma.  It was my A level text so I knew it in detail from early on but it still surprises me.  It’s also cheered my through sad times in my life.

Many people associate Bath with Jane Austen and are not aware of the treasures to find at Chawton. They often think it is difficult to access (most emphatically, it is not!) Yet too many people visiting the museum might endanger it’s unique and very special atmosphere. This is obviously a delicate balance to maintain, and I’d like to know what is your long-term vision for the museum, and your thoughts on attracting visitors to the house.

Let me say first of all that I can understand why people associate Bath with Jane Austen.  It is after all a Regency town and includes places specifically included in her novels.  However, I do want people in this country and worldwide to associate Chawton and Hampshire in their mind with Jane Austen, because this was her home county and Chawton Cottage (now Jane Austen’s House Museum) was actual home.  More importantly it’s the home where she did the majority of her writing – the reason for her fame!

The numbers game is tricky but I would confidently say that we are nowhere near breaking point.  There are times that are particularly busy in the summer but then there is always the garden to explore.  The winter months of November, December, February and March can be quite quiet and visitors can enjoy the special atmosphere of the house sometimes on their own.

We do want to encourage repeat visits and we are lucky that over the next few years we have the bicentenaries of all the novels to celebrate.

The next seven years are very exciting ones for Janeites with so many important bi-centenaries on the calendar, culminating in 2017 with the bicentenary of Jane Austen death.  How will the museum be celebrating this year’s 200th anniversary of the first publication of Sense and Sensibility?

In many ways.  All our events this year are themed around Sense and Sensibility, and these will include concerts, talks and relevant displays. (Go here to see more details of the events.) We will be having regular readings from the novel by our staff and volunteers who have been helped by our wonderful patron, Elizabeth Garvie. (Whom you will all recognize in her photograph, below, for she is a general Janeite favourite, her portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet in the 1981 production of Pride and Prejudice produced by the BBC is considered one of the best, and her stage performances in A Celebration of Jane Austen, with her late husband, Anton Rogers and now with Robert Powell, are acclaimed- jfw)

May I ask about the new edition of about the new edition of Sense and Sensibility that the Jane Austen House Museum is publishing this year? Is this going to be the first of a series of all six of the novels? Can you let us have some details about the book: for example, will it be published in hardback and paperback format, will it be annotated and will it be illustrated? And can we order it from the Museum shop?

We are very excited about this venture as you can imagine – publishing Jane’s first novel 200 years after it was first published from this very house. Our aim at this stage is certainly to publish all 6 novels in the same format over the next few years. It will be a hardback copy with covers very similar to the original board ones, but it will be in one volume and not three.  As with the original it will not be annotated or illustrated, but, it will have a foreword by our patron, Professor Kathryn Sutherland, renowned Austen scholar, from Oxford University.  Yes, you will be able to order it from the museum shop.

The newly refurbished kitchen has been beautifully renovated, and is a wonderfully inviting space. Do you have any plans to use it for public events, and do you plan to use it in conjunction with Martha Lloyd’s amazing household book?

We already use the kitchen for certain events.  We have held herb workshops in there and we often use it for intimate sessions with small groups.  It’s also a very nice venue for refreshments at evening events.  We do have plans to use the recipe book in new and creative ways, but these are still in development.  Watch this space!

**********************************************

This all sounds rather exciting, intriguing and yet comforting at the same time. It is wonderful to note that Jane Austen’s house is in such good and capable hands, and I do look forward to the development of Chawton under Louise’s tenure very much. I should like to thank her for her time and for her  gracious answers to my rudimentary questions, and I hope many of you will visit Louise at the Museum.

 

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