Torquay: Jane Austen letter from 1799

December 13, 2014 at 1:54 pm (jane austen, news, research) (, , )


The Mail Online has a complete transcription and (small) image of the letter, written by Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra in January 1799. In Deirdre Le Faye’s Jane Austen’s Letters it is letter No. 17; images appear in Jo Modert’s facsimile edition as F29.1 thru F29.4. The letter was gifted to the Torquay Museum by Hester Pengelly (Mrs Hester Forbes-Julian), daughter of one of the museum’s founders.

The BAD News is the museum hopes to SELL the letter at auction, undoubtedly the reason behind the current press release. More disappointing, however, is the notion that the letter was a “discovery” and “previously unseen”. Its rediscovery – for it was gifted in the 1930s – happened in 1989! And the museum’s own website claims that it “possible to view items by request” from this very collection [see link below].

NPG D1007; Jane Austen after Cassandra Austen

NB: note the comment that a word transcribed as “Moneydower” is MANYDOWN. What other transcription errors there may be is anyone’s guess. Read it in Le Faye or Modert instead.

Must confess the “headlines hoopla” leaves me as disappointed as the blogger at “Late Modern English Letters“. I thought it was truly a NEW discovery, until I spotted the SAME opening sentence in Le Faye. For I do believe that some day more Austen letters WILL come to light – “lost” in an archive, or a dusty attic, closet or trunk.

By the way, the other three letters Mrs Forbes-Julian donated are written by John Keats, Charlotte Brontë and Abraham Lincoln. I hope EACH of them goes to a facility where they are “gathered into the fold”, in the case of Austen’s – it would be nice to see the Hampshire Record Office, Chawton Cottage, or the Morgan Library put in a bid. (according to THIS link, it is a combined estimate, not solely the Austen holograph, that suggests a valuation of £200,000; of course this does NOT account for the current feeding frenzy of Anything Austen)

Still, rather sad to hear the fundraising potential of selling rather than having these items in their collection at the Torquay Museum. And really rather distasteful if the lady’s will specifically prohibited (strongly or by implication) a future sale of her gift. At the very least, it could be a move to rouse enough outcry that the Museum obtains funding while retaining their Hester Forbes-Julian Letter Collection (which the museum puts at “sixteen albums”) in toto.

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