On 18 July 2017, the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, King’s College Library mounted an exhibition featuring first editions of all of Austen’s novels, the autograph manuscript of her unfinished novel Sanditon, a manuscript letter to her publisher, a book from her library, early translations of her novels, and other rare treasures. The event was a great success and was attended by over 1,000 people. We present below some highlights from the first part of the exhibition for those who could not visit in person.
Jane was born in Steventon parsonage in Hampshire, and lived the first 25 years of her life there. She drafted Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey in Steventon. She was so distraught when she was told the news in December 1800 that the family would be moving to Bath that she fainted.
Sense and Sensibility, Austen’s first novel to be published, was written in epistolary form around 1795 in Steventon under the title Elinor and Marianne. It was begun in its present form in autumn 1797 and revised and prepared for publication in 1809-1811 when Jane was living in Chawton.
Pride and Prejudice, originally titled First Impressions, was offered for publication to the London bookseller Thomas Cadell, but the offer was declined by return post. The novel was subsequently published by Thomas Egerton under the revised title Pride and Prejudice. Upon receiving her copy of the first edition from the publisher, Jane wrote: ‘I have got my darling child from London’ (27 Jan 1813).
The Austen family lived in Bath between 1801 and 1806. Jane was familiar with the Pump Room, which is used as a setting in her novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. This image, from The New Bath Guide (1807), shows the Pump Room, a venue for fashionable people, as it would have looked during Jane Austen’s time there.
Austen’s novels Persuasion (written 1815-16) and Northanger Abbey (written 1798-99) both appeared posthumously in a four-volume set in December 1817, although the title page states 1818. They are prefaced by a ‘biographical notice’ written by Jane’s brother Henry Austen in which Jane’s identity is revealed for the first time. She appears to have intended to publish Persuasion in 1818 but did not live long enough to do so.
In 1809 Austen’s brother Edward offered his mother and sisters a more settled life – the use of a large cottage in Chawton, near Alton in Hampshire. Whilst living in Chawton Jane published her first four novels. She also wrote Mansfield Park there between 1811 and 1813. It was first published by Egerton in 1814 and a second edition was published in 1816 by John Murray, still within Austen’s lifetime. It did not receive any critical attention when it first appeared.
When Henry Austen was taken ill in London in October 1815, he was attended by his sister Jane and by one of the Prince Regent’s doctors who identified her as the author of Pride and Prejudice. The doctor reported that the Prince (later George IV) was a great admirer of her novels and she was invited to dedicate one of her future works to the Prince. Emma was the lucky work. Jane disapproved of the Prince’s treatment of his wife, but felt she couldn’t refuse, so she settled for a title page reading simply ‘Emma, Dedicated by Permission to HRH The Prince Regent’, though her publisher (John Murray) thought it ought to be more elaborate.
This copy of the first edition of Emma belonged to King’s Provost George Thackeray (1777–1850).
Several months after the dedication of Emma, Jane wrote to John Murray and reported that the Prince had thanked her for the copy of Emma. In the same letter she notes that in a recent review of the novel, the anonymous reviewer (later established as Sir Walter Scott) completely fails to mention Mansfield Park, remarking with regret that ‘so clever a man as the reviewer of Emma, should consider it as unworthy of being noticed’.
In his review of Emma, Sir Walter Scott fails to mention Mansfield Park:
Jane Austen was seemingly unaware that one of her novels was published in America during her lifetime. This is one of only four known copies of the first American edition of Emma. The rest of her novels were not published in the US until the early 1830s. As well as the expected differences in spelling and punctuation, the text has also been bowdlerized.
Due to popular demand, an expanded version of this exhibition will be presented as part of the Open Cambridge weekend on 8 and 9 September 2017. So if you couldn’t make it this time, or would like to see the exhibition again, please put these dates in your diary! More details will follow here in due course.