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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Summer fun

Chawton House, the Elizabethan mansion in Hampshire, England, once owned by Jane Austen’s brother Edward Austen Knight, has had a busy summer:

* Throughout June, Chawton House—now a combination of research library and tourist-friendly stately home—used its Twitter feed to highlight the happy conclusion of a fundraising campaign staged by the North American Friends of Chawton House.

Every day featured a photo or video of one of the thirty benches scattered across Chawton’s gardens, each one “adopted” by a North American donor—Austen scholars, local chapters of the Jane Austen Society of North America, or regular old Janeites. All but one of the donors chose an apposite quotation to adorn their bench, sometimes picking lines from one of Chawton House’s treasured first editions.

Scrolling through the pictures and quotes offers a delightful virtual tour of Chawton’s gardens and a reminder of the many writers who paved the way for Austen or followed in her footsteps, from Mary Wollstonecraft to A.S. Byatt. (Click here for most of the relevant tweets and here, here, and here for the rest.)

* In mid-July, Chawton House celebrated the twentieth anniversary of its restoration and reopening, a long ordeal chronicled in a chapter of my book Among the Janeites. Initially, the restored house was conceived as a research library for the study of early English writing by women, but Chawton expanded into tourism after founding donor Sandy Lerner withdrew her support in 2017.

The anniversary program reflected both sides of Chawton’s mission, with a panel of academics highlighting the library’s scholarly contributions, the writer Gill Hornby discussing how the house helped inspire her two novels rooted in Austen family history, and Chawton staff offering tours of the mansion and its gardens.

* A week before the celebration, Chawton House announced an exciting find: A long-missing music book--signed by Austen and including a page that she may have recopied by hand--turned up among the possessions of Jenyth Worsley, a great-great-great-niece of Austen’s, who died in March.

Precisely how Worsley, a composer who once worked for an innovative BBC sound-effects division, came to have the Austen music book is glossed over in Chawton’s account of what is tactfully referred to as the “rediscovered” volume. The book—stamped “Chawton House, Alton, Hants.,” lest there be any uncertainty about its provenance--was in the Knight family’s library at Chawton in 1978, when one scholar consulted it, and gone by 1987, when another scholar tried to do the same.

“We had no idea she had it, so you can imagine our surprise when we found it amongst Jenyth’s things!” Worsley’s executors wrote, in what is surely an example of the British talent for understatement.

I’d love to know the full story—paging Gill Hornby?—but whatever it may be, the book is now back where it belongs, and Chawton Chief Executive Katie Childs promises that it will soon serve as the kernel of a public program.

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2 commenti

27 lug 2023

Re: the discovery of the JA music book among J. Worsley's effects, I see that great minds are running in the same direction as usual. I agree that it might take Gill Hornsby's talents to do justice to the full story.

And I'm sorry I've been out of touch lately. My DH died on June 4, and it's been taking me some time to crawl back to life myself.

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Deborah Yaffe
Deborah Yaffe
31 lug 2023
Risposta a

Marie, I'm so sorry to hear this sad news. I know you've had a very difficult time in recent years--I hope you're taking time to recuperate. It would be lovely to reconnect at the Denver AGM, if you're planning to be there!

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