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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Treasures of the collection

A year after a priceless nineteenth-century literary collection was rescued from the auction block and donated to public institutions across the UK, the British Library will celebrate this treasure trove of manuscripts and rare printed books with a hybrid event taking place tomorrow. The proceedings start at 7 pm (UK time), and a £5 ($6.14) registration fee buys either a ticket to the in-person London event or an online link good for forty-eight hours of access.

The centerpiece of the program, “The Blavatnik Honresfield Library Revealed,” is a new film that tells the story of the collection and features a conversation with curators of some of the museums and libraries that received donations, including Lizzie Dunford, the director of Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, Hampshire. Two original Austen letters included in the collection were given jointly to Oxford University’s Bodleian Library and to Jane Austen’s House, where they are on display until March.

Austen letters are so rare and precious that they alone would constitute an extraordinary acquisition, but in the context of the Blavatnik Honresfield Library’s treasures, they aren’t even the main draw. Among the other items in the collection are Emily Brontë’s poetry notebook, annotated by her sister Charlotte; manuscripts by Sir Walter Scott; Robert Burns’ commonplace book; and much, much more.

The Blavatnik Honresfield Library is named in honor of the two rich businessmen instrumental in its creation and preservation. Honresfield was the northern England home of mill owner William Law (1836-1901), who first assembled the collection. Sir Leonard Blavatnik is the billionaire investor, reputedly Britain’s richest man, who donated half the £15 million (about $18.4 million) price of last year’s acquisition. Whatever your feelings about the intertwining of art and commerce, it’s nothing new.

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