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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Austen-linked fixer-upper

By now, I’m used to reading real estate listings that hype every tiniest link to Jane Austen: An oast house on a farm where her father once lived! A villa where she visited friends! The family home that played Longbourn in an iconic Pride and Prejudice adaptation! So it comes as a real shock when a listing doesn’t even bother to mention a tangential Austen connection.

Log on to the website of Country Life, the real estate bible of the British rich, and you’ll find this headline: “A grand Hampshire house in need of renovation, which once belonged to Jane Austen’s nephew.” Read a little further, and you’ll learn that the nephew in question was George Austen, son of Jane’s older brother Francis. *

Four years old when his famous aunt died, George grew up to become a clergyman who lived in the now-for-sale Oaklands House from 1880 until 1895. But hop over to the detailed listing, or to the glossy brochure highlighting the home’s many attractions (scroll down to download PDF), and you’ll find nary a mention of this Austen connection.

Instead, you will learn that the house is semi-palatial – eight thousand square feet, nine bedrooms, high ceilings, wood paneling, stained glass – and that the property includes grounds described as “extensive.” Judging from the pictures, it looks like the kind of red-brick Victorian where you’d expect to find, say, a wardrobe with a portal to a magic land, or a nearby gravel pit containing a wish-granting sand-fairy.

Fellow connoisseurs of Austen-linked real estate will no doubt share my astonishment at the asking price: a mere £1.5 million (about $2.1 million). Astonishment -- and suspicion: Something must be wrong with this place, right?

Luckily, Country Life is on the case: “There’s no doubt that the . . . interiors — particularly the kitchen -- require updating to bring them in line with today’s standards,” the magazine explains helpfully. The kitchen looks perfectly adequate to me, but “perfectly adequate” is probably not what you have in mind if you’re in the market for multimillion-dollar real estate. And I can’t deny that the previous owners appear to have made some truly tragic wallpaper choices.

Typically, I like to mock and abuse people who are spinning the slenderest of Jane-Austen-slept-here threads into an elaborate tapestry of inflated property values. But now I find myself in the paradoxical position of feeling aggrieved on poor George Austen’s behalf: What, his links to a famous relative he barely knew don’t even merit a mention? Surely that connection should be worth an extra few thousand.

* Not to be confused with a slew of other George Austens: Jane’s father; Jane’s disabled, second-oldest brother; the second son of Jane’s third-oldest brother, Edward; and the second son of Jane’s younger brother, Charles.


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