Forty-one is a tragic number for Janeites – the all-too-young age at which Jane Austen left this world exactly two centuries ago, at the height of her artistic powers. So it seems a tad ghoulish for Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton to have selected that number as the theme of its nine-month-long bicentenary exhibition, “Jane Austen in 41 Objects.”
Still, this is merely a quibble, since the exhibition itself – at least as far as I can tell from its online presence – seems endearing and delightful. Each week, the museum’s website features one object, accompanied by a blog post explaining its significance in Austen’s life and/or the museum’s collection. Some of the objects will be on display all year – the exhibition, which began in March, ends on December 15, the day before Austen’s 242nd birthday – and others only for a portion of that time.
Doled out at the rate of one per week, the objects featured so far have ranged from the familiar (Austen’s writing desk, the topaz crosses her sailor brother Charles sent his sisters) to the more obscure (a muslin shawl Austen may have embroidered, a needle case she gave to one of her nieces). Bloggers have included university scholars and museum staff.
All in all, it’s yet another entry on the growing list of enviable Austen bicentenary events occurring in sadly distant locales. Pretty soon, I suspect, the items on that list will number more than forty-one.