Deborah Yaffe

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Bye-bye to benches

By Deborah Yaffe, Sep 28 2017 01:00PM

As summer turns to autumn, the Jane Austen bicentenary year enters its final quarter, and winding-up is in the air. The latest evidence: the Basingstoke BookBenches have dispersed to new homes.


Regular blog readers will recall that I’ve had mixed feelings about this public art project, Sitting With Jane, which scattered twenty-four Austen-themed benches, shaped like open books and decorated with specially commissioned artwork, in and around Basingstoke, not far from Austen’s final home at Chawton.


Judging from the photos, many of the benches were lovely. Unfortunately, however, two of the artists incorporated quotations from Austen movies into their designs – in at least one case, apparently without realizing that the words in question were not written by Austen. Sigh. It’s a losing battle, but one I will continue to fight nonetheless.


Still, however you feel about quote confusion, no one could argue with the success of the project’s finale, an auction of the benches earlier this month that raised more than £95,000 (about $129,000), three-quarters of which will go to a cancer charity hoping to build a new treatment center in Basingstoke.


Local coverage doesn’t make clear who bought most of the benches, but at least three (see here and here) will apparently remain on public display – welcome news for those of us who couldn’t make it to England this year.


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