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Wednesday, February 29

Jane Austen at the Bodleian Library on World Book Day

The Bodleian Libraries mark this year’s World Book Day (1 March) with a series of events dedicated to one of the greatest British writers, Jane Austen. These include a one-day display, a lunchtime talk and a book launch.

On display for the first time will be a decorative cross stitch sampler by Jane Austen and a newly-discovered portrait which has been the subject of recent research by Austen scholars. As both items are on loan from private collections specially for this one-day Austen display, this is a unique opportunity for lovers of Austen to see items directly linked to the writer.

The sampler is signed and dated ‘Jane Austen 17[8]7’ (some of the stitching from the ‘8’ has come away), and was made when the novelist was eleven or twelve. A note attached to the back of the frame states that an early owner ‘was related to Jane Austen the novelist’ and that she ‘received it as a memento of her (n.b. Austen’s) life.’

It was in her third novel Northanger Abbey that Jane referred to samplers when Henry Tilney playfully boasts to Catherine Morland that he has read far more novels than her: ‘Consider how many years I have had the start of you. I had entered on my studies at Oxford, while you were a good little girl working your sampler at home!’ ‘Not very good I am afraid’, replies Catherine. While we can imagine the young Jane Austen dutifully embroidering this sampler at home, she was, by then, starting to write, and already showing the distinctive irony and literary intelligence that would characterize her great novels.

The Bodleian Library's new acquisition, the incomplete manuscript of
The Watsons will also be displayed (a number of pages are missing.)
The recently discovered portrait was originally thought to be an imaginary portrait of Jane Austen. Drawn in pencil on vellum, the portrait is inscribed "Miss Jane Austin" on the back. This note provided the first clue to the owner, Dr Paula Byrne who received the portrait as a gift from her husband last year. She also believes that the sitter has a striking resemblance with the writer’s family given by the long, straight "Austen nose".

Since then, the portrait’s authenticity has been debated by Austen scholars and also made the subject of a BBC documentary. The Bodleian Libraries are joining the debate by putting the portrait on display and inviting the public to decide for themselves. Click here for the rest of the announcement on the Bodleian Libraries Site at the Universities of Oxford.

  • A fascinating discussion ensued on my other blog, Jane Austen's World, when I wrote a post about the new portrait. Click here to read it.

1 comment:

Anne Shirley said...

Well, first of all, thanks for the information, as usual =). I wish I could travel some day, to see important things like this. This is my dream: travel to England and visit her house, the museum where is one of her portraits (Cassandra's one), and Winchester. I do love her! She is my greatest idol!