Newly acquired Austen letter on displayWe are delighted to be displaying a newly acquired Austen letter as part of our spring exhibition, My dear Cassandra...
Our new exhibition, My dear Cassandra… explores Jane Austen’s special relationship with her sister. Opening next week, on 22 March 2023, the exhibition will feature a newly acquired Austen letter following its discovery in Cambridge.
Jane Austen wrote the letter from Steventon to her sister Cassandra who was staying with their elder brother, Edward Austen Knight, at Godmersham Park in Kent, on 27-28 October 1798. It is a typically chatty, gossipy letter to Cassandra, full of family matters and local news, all told with Jane’s characteristic dry humour and biting wit.
The letter comes to Jane Austen’s House through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, administered by the Arts Council and negotiated by Cheffins Auctioneers in Cambridge. The letter came to Cheffins from the estate of a Cambridge resident, who had acquired it in 2000. It is one of only approximately 160 letters to survive and is one of the earliest in existence.
Martin Millard, Director, Cheffins says: “We are delighted to have assisted in ensuring that this important letter by Jane Austen is now in its rightful home at Jane Austen’s House in Chawton. The letter had come to Cheffins Auctioneers from the estate of a local Cambridge resident, who had acquired it in 2000 to add to a small, but deftly invested, collection. Dated 1798, and written to her sister Cassandra, this letter is one of the earliest to survive of Jane Austen’s correspondence and is typical in its domestic style: it is lively, vivid, funny and a brilliant window into her personality. Many of Jane’s letters to her sister were destroyed by Cassandra two or three years before her own death, making survivals rare. It was the family’s wish and our recommendation that the letter go to Jane Austen’s House, and we are pleased to have brokered this transaction on behalf of our client.”
Professor Kathryn Sutherland, Jane Austen’s House Trustee says: “As domestic art, Austen’s letters hold a special appeal for visitors to Jane Austen’s House. We are thrilled with the allocation to us through Cheffins and by Arts Council England of this rare early example. It will be a bright jewel in our growing collection, and we look forward to celebrating its arrival in this display.”
The letter was amongst those bequeathed to Jane Austen’s niece, Fanny, Lady Knatchbull, by Jane’s sister, Cassandra and inherited by Fanny’s son, Lord Brabourne in 1882, who published it in his edition of the Letters of Jane Austen. The letter has been included in the Arts Council’s Cultural Gifts Scheme and Acceptance in Lieu Report 2022.
My dear Cassandra… will run from 22 March to 29 October and is free with House entry. An online exhibition will also be available. This exhibition is part of the ‘Year of Cassandra’, celebrating the life of Cassandra Austen, 1773 – 1845.