Rare Jane Austen letter saved as public campaign raises £10k

Rare Jane Austen letter saved as public campaign raises £10k

Jane Austen’s House Museum has saved a section of a letter by Jane Austen after “an outpouring of generosity from the public” saw £10,000 raised in six weeks.

The document will go on display at the museum in Chawton, Hampshire, on Tuesday (20th August) for the rest of the year, joining 12 other Austen letters in the museum’s collection.

The letter appeared for sale sparking a crowdfunding campaign to preserve the letter for public access. The campaign raised more than £10,000 in six weeks, with more than 250 donors from around the world chipping in. The seller agreed a deadline of 31st July for the museum to raise the funds. The £35,000 negotiated purchase price was reached through financial support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Stephen James Charitable Trust and the Walter Guinness Charitable Trust in addition to the fundraising campaign.

The two-page letter was written to Austen's niece Anna in November 1814, during the time she lived at a cottage in Chawton - where the Jane Austen’s House Museum is now based. It offers glimpses into family detail and social history

The author wrote the letter on 29th November 1814 during a visit to London, where she was staying at her brother Henry's home, to discuss a second edition of Mansfield Park. The letter was subsequently split into five portions (two of which are now lost, one is in the British Library and one is in private hands) with the principal portion, consisting of the first 40 lines, to now go on display at the House Museum.

A comment about family connections in the letter, said by the museum to be reminiscent of Mansfield Park, reads: “I like first Cousins to be first Cousins, & interested about each other. They are but one remove from Br & Sr.”

Professor Kathryn Sutherland, trustee of Jane Austen’s House Museum and Austen scholar, says of the fragment: “As any two pages go, these are delightful and rich in information. The letter fits wonderfully well with others in the museum’s collection: we have two earlier examples from Austen’s visits to London where she stayed with brother Henry, in May 1813 and March 1814. This, from November 1814, the latest of the visits, was written when she was in London to discuss a second edition of her most recent novel, Mansfield Park, with her then publisher Thomas Egerton.”

Museum director Dr Mary Guyatt said: “We are thrilled to be able to display this irreplaceable manuscript and we would like to thank the individuals and organisations who have helped to secure its future here. Each new acquisition advances the Museum's vision to cherish and share Jane Austen's home, work and legacy as an inspiration to the world.”

The letter features as part of the current exhibition, ‘Making the Museum’, which celebrates the 70th anniversary of the author’s of Austen's home as a museum.