A Memoir of Jane Austen by James Edward Austen-Leigh

Object name: A Memoir of Jane Austen by James Edward Austen-Leigh

Object number: CHWJA:JAHB57.1.1

Category: Books

Description: A Memoir of Jane Austen, 1870 written by her nephew, J. E. Austen-Leigh. First edition.  Published by Richard Bentley and printed by Spottiswoode and Co. Bound in green cloth with gilt decoration on cover and spine. Hand written inscription on title page reads ‘Mrs Charles John Austen Junior’.

Made: 1870

Context: Interest in Jane Austen and her novels had gradually grown over the years since her death to a level where, in the late 1860’s, the now elderly children of Jane’s eldest brother James, decided to collaborate in writing the first major biography of their aunt.  A Memoir of Jane Austen was published in 1870.

Although James Edward Austen-Leigh was named as the sole author of the book, the content owed much to input from his sister Caroline and their half-sister Anna Lefroy as well as their cousin, Cassy Esten Austen, Charles Austen’s eldest daughter.

James Edward was 18 years old when his Aunt Jane died and Caroline only 12 but both remembered their aunt well during the years she lived at Chawton Cottage. However Anna, who was a married woman of 24 with two children when Jane died, had known her aunt very well since the Steventon period and described to her brother how, as an adult, the 17 year age gap between them had shrunk to nothing.

The Memoir was written with Victorian sensibility, omitting details such as the existence of Jane’s second brother George who was handicapped and the trial of Jane’s Aunt Leigh-Perrot for theft. The family were also concerned to gloss over any hint of romantic attachments. For all its shortcomings, however, the Memoir with its precious first-hand insights is a very valuable source which has informed all subsequent biographies.

This copy was owned by the wife of Jane’s nephew, Charles John Austen junior.

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