Mr Austen’s Bookcase

Text by Mary Hogg, Volunteer at Jane Austen's House

George Austen’s mahogany bureau bookcase is a beautiful and imposing piece of furniture which Jane will have known well when the family lived in Steventon.

Made in the 1780s by George Hepplewhite it has a glass fronted display cabinet for books on top, and underneath is a chest of drawers with a sloping top supported on two ‘arms’ to form a flat surface on which to write. This is the desk. Inside there are pigeon holes, small drawers and open spaces where George Austen would have kept important documents and other items. With his books nearby, he probably composed his sermons here, wrote letters to his friends and acquaintances, and prepared lessons for his pupils and his own children, including Cassandra and Jane.

Imagine Jane, as a small girl, sitting in her father’s study watching him at work whilst she looked at one of his books. She loved reading and you can picture her reaching up to open the bookcase and take out a book. Her father encouraged her to read, and had a large library of books. Her family enjoyed Jane’s writing, and loved hearing her read her stories, but it is unlikely she was allowed to write at the desk as only her father sat there!

When Jane and her family moved to Bath, the desk remained at Steventon Rectory and when the building was pulled down in the mid-1800s the desk found its way to Steventon Manor. It remained there until 1950 when it was sold at auction and bought by the Jane Austen Society and given to the Jane Austen House. It is now in the drawing room in Chawton Cottage and contains early editions of Jane’s novels.