Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 6 2020 02:00PM

If only the Austens had invested in Steventon real estate.

Back in 1801, as Janeites will recall, the Rev. George Austen moved out of the rectory in the rural village of Steventon, turned the house and the minister’s job over to his son James, and retired to Bath, taking along his wife and his daughters, Cassandra and Jane. James Austen kept the Steventon living until his death in 1819; the rectory itself was torn down some years later.

That teardown looks like a grievous mistake now that an exceedingly modest cottage in this tiny village is on the market for £350,000 (about $464,000). In the not-inexpensive New Jersey suburb where I live, a comparable price will typically get you about two thousand square feet comprising three bedrooms and two baths. In Steventon, it gets you just over six hundred square feet with two bedrooms and one bath.

It’s hard to believe that even that astute judge of real estate Robert Ferrars would find room for eighteen couples to stand up in this dining room. And with two hundred and fifty residents, Steventon is truly tiny. Even the shop, the school, and the two pubs are located in the next town over.

Still, Myrtle Cottage does look cute, if small – I believe “cozy” is the approved real estate term – plus the Jane Austen association probably adds something to the price. And hey – it’s called Myrtle Cottage. How many American suburbs have houses with names? Really, if people do but know how to set about it, every comfort may be as well enjoyed in a cottage as in the most spacious dwelling. (To quote that real estate expert again.)

OK, Robert, you’ve talked me into it. Anyone have a spare £350,000?

By Deborah Yaffe, Apr 11 2019 01:00PM

Forty-third in an occasional series of excerpts from Jane Austen's letters.

"It is a period, indeed!” Captain Wentworth exclaims to Anne Elliot, as their long estrangement begins to thaw in Chapter 22 of Persuasion. “Eight years and a half is a period!"

A similar spirit of mingled pain and nostalgia seems to have animated Jane Austen in the letter she finished writing to her sister, Cassandra, exactly 214 years ago today (#43 in Deirdre Le Faye’s standard edition of Austen’s correspondence).

The preceding months had been difficult ones for the Austens. On Jane’s twenty-ninth birthday, in December 1804, her beloved friend and mentor Anne Lefroy, known as Madame Lefroy, was killed in a horseback riding accident at 55. Two weeks later, the Austen patriarch, the Rev. George Austen, died unexpectedly at 73. His death, with the loss of his clerical pension, inaugurated a financial slide that would eventually force the surviving Austen women to move repeatedly, as they sought ever-cheaper rented rooms in less and less desirable parts of Bath.

Some inkling of these troubles surely hangs over the letter Jane wrote to Cassandra, who was back in Hampshire, the county the Austen sisters had called home until four years earlier, when their parents uprooted them. While Cassandra helped nurse the dying Mrs. Lloyd, mother of their sister-in-law Mary Austen and their close friend Martha Lloyd, Jane reported the news from Bath.

“This morning we have been to see Miss Chamberlayne look hot on horseback,” Jane wrote to Cassandra. “Seven years & four months ago we went to the same Ridinghouse to see Miss Lefroy’s performance!—What a different set are we now moving in! But seven years I suppose are enough to change every pore of one’s skin, & every feeling of one’s mind.”

By our standards, Jane Austen was still young in 1805, and it would be another decade before she began Persuasion. But already, in this letter, we can glimpse the emotional raw materials of the novel: a melancholy sense of the inexorable passage of time.

By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 21 2016 01:00PM

Jane Austen and real estate: That’s a familiar subject. Whether it’s grand mansions said to be the model for Pemberley, or modest homes where Austen stayed during visits to friends, there’s no shortage of houses claiming Austen links.

Jane Austen and beer? Now that’s virgin territory, as far as I know.

So it’s a bit unexpected to learn of some beer-related real estate with bona fide Austen links: Up for sale in the southeastern English town of Tonbridge is a converted oast house, which the Evening Standard newspaper says was formerly part of a farm where Jane Austen’s father, George Austen, lived before his marriage.

Oast houses, for those of us not in the brewing game, were once used to dry hops over charcoal-fired kilns. Now that beer-making is a largely industrial process, many oast houses, recognizable by their rounded chimneys, have been converted into homes.

Extremely upscale homes, in this case: The ex-oast house in Tonbridge, which has six bedrooms and three bathrooms, is on the market for £1.07 million, or about $1.4 million at post-Brexit currency-conversion rates.

That’s substantially less than the £1.75 million that the Evening Standard reported, in an apparent typo. The newspaper story also seems to backdate the building by about a century, calling it an eighteenth-century oast house when the realtor’s listing dates the construction to 1870.

Should these errors make us wonder about the authenticity of that purported Austen link? Guess that depends on how many beers you’ve had.

By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 22 2015 02:00PM

From time to time – or whenever the spate of weird, annoying or delightful Jane Austen news slows to a trickle – I’ll be offering an excerpt from a letter Austen wrote on the day of my post, give or take two centuries. Herewith, the first of these:

Two hundred and ten years ago, on January 22, 1805 – letter #41, in Deirdre Le Faye’s standard edition -- Jane Austen had the sad duty of informing her brother Frank of the sudden death a day earlier of their beloved father, the Rev. George Austen, age seventy-three.

“We have lost an Excellent Father,” Austen wrote, before giving Frank an account of Rev. Austen's brief final illness. “His tenderness as a Father, who can do justice to?. . . . The Serenity of the Corpse is most delightful!–It preserves the sweet, benevolent smile which always distinguished him.”

I’ve always had a soft spot for Jane Austen’s father, who gave his talented teenage scribbler a writing desk and who so enjoyed an early version of Pride and Prejudice that he offered it to a publisher too short-sighted to accept it. Alas, Rev. Austen did not live long enough to see the blossoming of his daughter’s career: his death came six years before the publication of Sense and Sensibility, the first of the novels to appear in print.

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