The Jane Austen manuscripts have been protected for future generations of scholars and the wider public as part of a huge campaign to save the Honresfield Library from auction
The campaign to acquire the Honresfield Library, a private collection of manuscripts and printed books associated with some of the greatest writers in English literature, was led by Friends of the National Libraries, the literary charity dedicated to preserving the nation’s written and printed heritage, in partnership with a consortium of research libraries and authors’ houses including the Bodleian Libraries and Jane Austen’s House.
The collection donated to the Bodleian Libraries and Jane Austen’s House also includes rare first editions of Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, all major works by Jane Austen.
The campaign involved a public appeal to generate donations to save the works from being dispersed through auction sale, and raised more than £15m in donations to secure the collection. The collection includes manuscripts by the Brontës, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott as well as Jane Austen.
The generosity of the principal donor, Sir Leonard Blavatnik, amounted to half of the collections purchase price (£7.5m). As a result of this monumental donation, it will now be known as the Blavatnik Honresfield Library.
Donations also included £4m from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the largest amount ever granted towards an acquisition of literary manuscripts since its formation in 1980.
The unprecedented literary acquisition will ensure public access to these treasured manuscripts and protect them from further sale.
Richard Ovenden OBE, Bodley’s Librarian at the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford said: ‘I am delighted to have been able to play a role in such an important literary acquisition - one that will secure literary treasures by some of the greatest writers from these islands for future generations.
‘We offer huge thanks to Friends of the National Libraries for the donation. Jane Austen is a literary marvel, beloved by her devoted readers all over the world and we are honoured to have prized items of such a unique, personal nature, to add to our wonderful Austen holdings at the Bodleian Libraries.
Professor Kathryn Sutherland, Senior Research Fellow at St Anne’s College, Oxford, and Trustee at Jane Austen’s House, added: ‘Held between Jane Austen’s House and the Bodleian Libraries, the Austen letters from the Blavatnik Honresfield Library will enrich two of the world’s major collections of Austen manuscripts and artefacts ensuring their accessibility to scholars and enthusiasts for generations to come.’
The Jane Austen collection includes two hugely significant personal letters that will join 14 others already owned by Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, Hampshire. Both were written to Jane Austen’s beloved sister Cassandra, and they show her at two very different stages of life.
In the first, from January 1796, Jane is about to ‘flirt her last’ with Tom Lefroy, the young Irish lawyer on holiday in Hampshire for Christmas who has caught her fancy. This is also the earliest known surviving letter to hold Austen’s signature.
The second letter dates from 1813 and sees an older Austen, now the published author of two well-received novels, enjoying a stay in London, and updating Cassandra with the latest gossip. In this long letter we see her pride in the reception of two of her best-loved novels, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.