Rare handwritten text from Jane Austen discovered

Britain magazine

A rare handwritten note from the British author Jane Austen has been revealed at West Dean College in West Sussex.

Britain magazine

West Dean College, the higher education college in the former home of poet and arts patron Edward James, has uncovered a rare handwritten text by the English novelist Jane Austen.

The text was written by Austen in 1814 and gives insight into her thoughts on her brother’s sermons – echoing a discussion later featured in the novel Mansfield Park.

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The college was commissioned by the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton to look at the first edition of The Memoirs of Jane Austen, which was published in 1870. This is the first time it has been seen in over 120 years.

Attached to the book is a letter that was written by Jane Austen’s nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, to a friend in 1870. The letter has a small scrap of paper on it, which contains part of a sermon copied in Jane Austen’s own hand, dating from 1814.

West Dean College front view

The Book Conservation department at West Dean carried out the restoration work as part of an exhibition that will open later this year for the bicentenary celebration of Mansfield Park, in which Austen also addressed the subject of sermons.

Britain magazine

The note reads:

‘Men may get into a habit of repeating the words of our Prayers by rote, perhaps without thoroughly understanding, – certainly without thoroughly feeling their full force & meaning.’

‘…great propriety preserved. – Wherever | wanted to be cleared of the Superstitious [address?] | of Popery – or whenever new ones were to be | composed in order to fill up & connect the Services, | …  with a true spirit’

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Keira McKee, Book Conservation student, said: ”By introducing a limited amount of humidity in a controlled way, I was able to soften the adhesive holdings the sheets together.”

“Exposing the inks to moisture can itself generate problems, due to the corrosive nature of the iron compounds used in such inks. The possibility of working on amazing projects such as this is one of the reasons I choose to study at West Dean,” she added.

For more information see the Jane Austen’s House Museum website or the West Dean College website

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