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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Austen's living room

Looking for a good place to curl up with your battered copy of Emma, celebrating its bicentennial in two weeks?

If you happen to be in the frozen north, you could stop by the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s Jane Austen Reading Room, an interactive exhibit “loosely inspired” by the library at Chawton House, where Austen’s brother Edward Knight lived. (It’s on through June 26, and museum admission is free.)

Mia’s ongoing “Living Rooms” initiative transforms galleries usually outfitted in the style of particular historical periods into sites for exploration and discussion. The Austen exhibit is located in the Queen Anne Room and the (more accurately Austenian) Georgian drawing room.

On display, as far as I can tell from the website, are various items intended to evoke Austen’s life: a pedestal table like the one she wrote on in Chawton cottage and a reproduction of her portable travel desk. Alongside these are items suggesting moments in Emma: an easel (for Harriet Smith’s portrait), an Indian shawl (to protect hypochondriac Mr. Woodhouse from drafts), an abandoned word game (blunder!).

Visitors can open up the travel desk and leaf through its contents – alas, it’s unlikely they’ll stumble across a previously undiscovered Austen manuscript – or pick up an Austen or Austen-inspired novel from the convenient stack and sink into a bright-yellow armchair. (Is that color really Georgian? Looks kind of synthetic from here. . .)

All in all, a pleasant way to escape the December chill. If you’ve been, please tell us about it!

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