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Rare glimpse of Jane Austen’s last manuscript in Cambridge

The manuscript of Jane Austen’s last unfinished novel, titled The Brothers, will be on display at King’s College in Cambridge for only one day during an event marking the 200th anniversary of her death.

world Updated: Jul 17, 2017 18:58 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Portrait of novelist Jane Austen. The manuscript of her last unfinished novel, titled The Brothers, will be on display in Cambridge for only one day on Tuesday.
Portrait of novelist Jane Austen. The manuscript of her last unfinished novel, titled The Brothers, will be on display in Cambridge for only one day on Tuesday.(Jane Austen Centre)

Jane Austen’s novels have delighted millions of people in India and the English-speaking world, but few have had a glimpse of her last unfinished novel titled The Brothers – the manuscript will be on display in Cambridge for only one day on Tuesday.

The exhibition at King’s College, including the manuscript, marks Austen’s death 200 years ago. Other items during the Jane Austen Open Day related to the iconic novelist are books and letters, the university said on Monday.

Organisers said the autograph manuscript could only be described as priceless. It is rarely displayed as both the ink and paper used are vulnerable to light. It was last shown to the public for one day in 2013.

After her death, it was released as Sanditon, the name of the seaside town that features in the story. The three notebooks in which Austen wrote Sanditon are among the greatest treasures held by the King’s College Archive. 

James Clements, librarian at King’s College, said: “A digital copy of Sanditon is available but we want people to have the chance to see the manuscript itself.

“We know that Jane began writing Sanditon in January 1817 and her last entry is dated 18th March 1817, by which time she’d completed 12 chapters. The novel begins with a carriage accident and charts familiar Austen territory with its wry and witty exploration of society politics.”

The manuscript was given to King’s College in 1930 by Austen’s great-great-niece, Mary Isabella Lefroy, whose brother-in-law (Augustus Austen-Leigh) had been provost of the college. The letter in which she talks about giving the notebooks to the college is on display.

Also on display are first editions of Austen novels published in her lifetime: Sense And Sensibility, Pride And Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma, all published anonymously.

Only after Austen’s death, when her novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were first published in December 1817 (also in the exhibition), was she identified as the author.

Other items of interest in the exhibition include a letter from Austen to her publisher, in which she takes a reviewer to task, and examples of early editions of Austen’s novels, including the first edition of Emma to appear in the US, and a Railway Library edition of Pride And Prejudice “in fancy boards” priced one shilling.

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