Deborah Yaffe


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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