Jane Austen note on family and prayer to be scrutinised in Mansfield Park celebration

By Ben Miller | 31 January 2014

A mysterious piece of paper containing a handwritten note by Jane Austen is being investigated by conservators in Sussex

A photo of a mottled ancient novel with a picture of its female author next to it
This First Edition of The Memoirs of Jane Austen was published by the author's nephew, James Edward Austen Leigh, in 1870© Jane Austen's House Museum, courtesy West Dean
Writing on a scrap of paper in 1814, Jane Austen penned part of a sermon on “men and prayer” - possibly to help her brother, The Reverend James Austen, whose sermons she was known to copy.

A photo of a section of a letter from the 19th century in black ink on white paper
The letter written by James Edward Austen Leigh in the same year the book arrived© Jane Austen's House Museum, courtesy West Dean
Her nephew, James Edward Austen Leigh - the publisher of The Memoirs of Jane Austen, in 1870 - attached it to a letter sent to a friend in the clergy during the same year, who pasted it into his First Edition of the book.

Conservators at West Dean, in Sussex, are hoping to examine a shadow of further handwriting visible on the reverse of the scrap while studying and cleaning it.

“What especially intrigued us about this fragment is its apparent date, 1814, and the evidence that it offers of the cross-currents between Austen's family life and her literary reflections on prayer in Chapter 34 of Mansfield Park, published the same year,” says Mary Guyatt, the Curator at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Hampshire.

“The work to secure the manuscript and to get it on display this summer is a collaboration between the museum, the Jane Austen Society, who helped us purchase it at auction, and now West Dean”

Work will also be carried out on the damaged spine of the hardback book before its appearance in an exhibition at the museum later this year, celebrating the bicentenary of Mansfield Park.

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