Jane Austen fans will have a rare chance today (18 July 2017) to see the manuscript of the novelist’s final (unfinished) novel at King’s College. The one-day exhibition in the College's Old Library marks Austen’s death 200 years ago and is open to the public. 

A digital version of Sanditon is available but we want people to have the chance to see the manuscript itself.

James Clements, King's College Librarian

When Jane Austen died on 18 July 1817 she had been working on a new novel. With four published novels (all published anonymously), she had accrued an enthusiastic following. The title she chose for this latest book was The Brothers. 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 King’s College Archive. The College will today (18 July 2017) display two of these notebooks in an exhibition in its Old Library. The remaining notebook is on loan to the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Sanditon is the star attraction of a Jane Austen Open Day organised to display around 40 items. The objects, arranged in three cases, comprise books and letters – and together represent King’s College’s biggest-ever display of Austen-related material.

The autograph manuscript of Sanditon can only be described as priceless. The manuscript 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. Due to the significance of this year's anniversary, it will be displayed again later this year at Open Cambridge.

“A .digital version of Sanditon is available but we want people to have the chance to see the manuscript itself,” said Dr James Clements, King’s College Librarian.

“We know that Jane began writing Sanditon in January 1817 and that 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 Sanditon 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. In it, she presents Sanditon in memory of “the most popular Provost, and Provostess ‘Kings’ has ever had”.

Also on display are first editions of the 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.

The Georgian town of Bath figures in several Austen novels. A copy of The New Bath Guide for 1807, on display alongside the first edition of Persuasion, sets the scene with stunning engravings of life at the fashionable spa.

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 USA, and a Railway Library edition of Pride and Prejudice “in fancy boards” priced one shilling.

The Jane Austen Open Day at King’s College takes place today (18 July 2017) from 10am to 4pm. For details and directions, go to https://kcctreasures.com/  There will be another chance to see the display as part Open Cambridge on 8 and 9 September 2017.

The exhibition has been made possible through a cataloguing and outreach project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.




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