On Tuesday evening, several UoL Bibliophiles were fortunate enough to attend an event at Maggs celebrating Jane Austen’s House Museum’s purchase of a letter from Jane Austen to her niece Anna Austen on 29 November 1814.
This was a fantastic opportunity not only to see the letter, but also an early magazine printing of Emma and a manuscript draft of a story by Mary Shelley. After a warm welcome from Robert Harding (Maggs), Mary Guyatt (Jane Austen’s House Museum) explained a little about the letter and its significance to the Museum, before handing over to Professor Kathryn Sutherland (University of Oxford and a Trustee of Jane Austen’s House Museum), who contextualised this purchase within the wider landscape in which there are very few original holograph letters by Austen surviving, and even fewer of those within the UK. She also spoke about the letter’s contents and what they tell us about Austen’s life, and specifically, her London travels.
Here is a synopsis of the letter from the event’s webpage:
The letter in question was written by Jane on 29 November 1814, during a visit to London, where she was staying at her brother Henry’s home. Addressed to Anna Austen, her much loved Hampshire niece, the letter mentions Jane’s Hampshire home (now the Museum) and includes interesting glimpses into family detail and social history. A comment about family connections – ‘I like first Cousin to be first Cousins, & interested about each other. They are but one remove from Br. & Sr.’ – is reminiscent of Mansfield Park, a particularly pleasing connection since Jane was in London to discuss a second edition of Mansfield Park. The letter finishes with a trip to the theatre and a typically Austenian quip: ‘I took two Pocket handkerchiefs, but had very little occasion for either.’
The event was extremely convivial as well as educational: on one of the hottest evenings of the year, a light buffet supper of sausage rolls and other nibbles was accompanied by local Hampshire sparkling wine (and lots of water and soft drinks to keep us hydrated). We met several members of the Jane Austen Society as well as scholars and librarians from around the world en route to an Austen colloquium at the National Maritime Museum the next day. I had the very great pleasure of perusing Shelley’s manuscript in the company of a retired research librarian from the Folger Library, and we were instantly able to tell our common profession from our reactions to the MS and Maggs’s accompanying notes.
A couple of Bibliophiles had bought full-price tickets for the event, but most of us in attendance were early career scholars, librarians and museum curators, whose budgets would not cover the ticket price and so could only benefit from attending through the generosity of Maggs and Jane Austen’s House Museum, and particularly Bibliophiles member Robert Harding, who, realising this would be the case, offered some spaces for members. In the spirit of the widow’s mite, most of us did donate what we could, through the Museum’s online fundraising page for the letter. We understand that this will be open until the end of the month if you, too, would like to donate something to help keep this letter in the UK, and specifically, accessible to visitors at the Museum.
Many thanks indeed to Maggs, Jane Austen’s House Museum, and Robert Harding.
Anne Welsh, UoL Bibliophiles Secretary
Note: We organise our annual programme in the summer each year, and the card covers the main teaching terms of the University of London. However, we are always delighted to hear from members during the year with opportunities like this one, for events they have organised, or who want to collaborate on something during the year.