Deborah Yaffe

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Enough already

By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 28 2019 02:00PM

Is it possible to have too much Jane Austen? Apparently, the good citizens of Winchester, England, think it is.


Last fall, Winchester Cathedral, where Jane Austen is buried, launched a curiously muted campaign to raise £250,000 (about $328,000) to erect an outdoor statue of her designed by a prominent sculptor. What followed was a storm of public criticism -- much of it aired in the local newspaper's letters column -- from people who disliked the look of the proposed statue, hated the idea of cluttering up the serene environs of the cathedral close, experienced sticker shock at the price tag, and/or believed the money would be better spent on other things.


Last week, cathedral administrators bowed to the criticism and dropped the idea. “There are other priorities within the Cathedral and city that need to be the focus of attention and energy at this time,” they wrote.


Winchester was always a peculiar locale for an elaborate tribute to our beloved writer: Austen journeyed to the city only to seek medical treatment, lived in lodgings there for less than two months, and is buried in the cathedral merely because she died nearby. It’s a fairly tenuous connection, as at least one Hampshire resident noted in a letter to the local newspaper objecting to the statue plan.


“The Cathedral already has Jane Austen’s gravestone and Winchester has the house she died in,” wrote Reefat Drabu, the president of the local chapter of the British Federation of Women Graduates, which promotes women’s education. “The two seem adequate and certainly reflect her relationship with Winchester.”


Ouch! But accurate, I must admit.


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