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A Woman's Wit: Jane Austen's Life and Legacy
November 6, 2009 through March 14, 2010

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Anonymous, British school (nineteenth century)
Miniature portrait of Jane Austen, watercolor on ivory [England]
2 7/16 x 3 inches (64 x 76 mm)
AZ 078

Austen's niece Caroline recollected: "As to my aunt's personal appearance, hers was the first face I can remember thinking pretty. Her face was rather round than long, she had a bright, but not a pink colour—a clear brown complexion, and very good hazel eyes. Her hair, a darkish brown, curled naturally, it was in short curls around her face. She always wore a cap." Although it conforms, in some of its details, to Caroline Austen's description, this miniature, which depicts a conventionally pretty Austen, is an imaginary portrait. It is an idealized adaptation of the steel engraving made from James Andrews's improvement of Cassandra's sketch that first appeared as the frontispiece to J. E. Austen-Leigh's Memoir of Jane Austen in 1870.


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Jane Austen (1775–1817)
Steel engraving after a sketch by Cassandra Austen; evidently executed as a frontispiece portrait for James Edward Austen-Leigh's biography of Austen entitled A Memoir of Jane Austen
London: Richard Bentley, 1870
Oval image: 120 x 96 mm
Purchased by J. P. Morgan, Jr., 1925; MA 1034.12

The only life portraits of Jane Austen are two sketches by her sister Cassandra from ca. 1804 and ca. 1810. The later and more famous portrait, an unsigned pencil and watercolor sketch of a hard-set and severe-looking Jane Austen, is now in the National Portrait Gallery, London. J. E. Austen-Leigh commissioned James Andrews to adapt Cassandra's sketch for his Memoir. Andrews's anachronistic watercolor drawing changed Austen's attitude and features, essentially making a more presentable image of the writer for the Victorian reading public. This steel engraving of Andrews's watercolor made Austen's eyes look even larger and milder and her expression more gentle. Austen's niece Cassy Esten Austen commented that this engraving shows "a very pleasing, sweet face, — tho', I confess, to not thinking it much like the original."


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Jane Austen (1775–1817)
A portion of the autograph manuscript of The Watsons, an unfinished novel written ca. 1804
13.3 and 19.2 cm
Purchased by J. P. Morgan, Jr., 1920; MA 1034.2

This twelve-page fragment is of enormous significance because it is the only manuscript extant from the period between the completion of Northanger Abbey in 1799 and the beginning of Mansfield Park in 1811 and, unlike the manuscript of Lady Susan, it is a rough draft rather than a fair copy, bearing numerous revisions and cancellations. It was probably begun in 1804 (the paper is watermarked 1803), when Austen was living in Bath. This is a portion of the unfinished novel (the larger portion of the manuscript is held by the University of London). It was given the title "The Watsons" when it was first published by James Edward Austen-Leigh in the 1871 edition of his Memoir. Austen's reasons for abandoning this novel remain conjectural.


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Jane Austen (1775–1817)
Autograph note concerning the "Profits of my Novels, over and above the 600 in the Navy Fives" ca. March 1817
9.4 x 11.4 cm
Purchased by J. P. Morgan, Jr.,1925; MA 1034.5

Austen invested the profits of her first three published novels in £600 worth of "Navy Fives," government stock that returned five percent interest annually, bringing her £30 each year. A memorandum of her personal expenditure in 1807 (MA 2911.2), in which she spent over £42, demonstrates that the profits from her novels were not sufficient to support her independently. This note records profits from the sale of Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma between March 1816 and March 1817. The final entry (7 March 1817) was written only four months before her death, leading the biographer Claire Tomalin to suggest that Austen prepared these accounts when she became ill and began to draft her will.


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Jane Austen (1775–1817)
Autograph manuscript of a plan of a novel, according to hints from various quarters [circa 1815]
23.3 cm
Purchased by J. P. Morgan, Jr., 1925; MA 1034.1

"Plan of a novel" was probably written in 1816 as a comic riposte to Austen's correspondence with James Stanier Clarke, domestic chaplain and librarian to the prince regent. Clarke had self-importantly suggested that Austen write a novel about a clergyman, perhaps modeled on his own career. Austen's "Plan" is an assemblage of cliches and ludicrous plot points—several of which were suggested by the family members, friends, and acquaintances identified in the margins—that exuberantly parodies the implausible, formulaic excesses and artificiality of romantic fiction popular in her time. This pastiche reveals the brilliance of Austen's irony and playful wit.


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Jane Austen (1775–1817)
Autograph letter signed, dated Godmersham, 20–22 June 1808, to Cassandra Austen
22.6 cm
Purchased by J. P. Morgan, Jr., 1920; MA 977.16

Writing over the course of three days, Austen acknowledges receiving another letter from Cassandra in the meantime: "You are very amiable & very clever to write such long Letters; every page of yours has more lines than this, & every line more words than the average of mine. I am quite ashamed—but you have certainly more little events than we have." The letter is full of little events: "Mr Waller is dead, I see;—I cannot grieve about it, nor perhaps can his Widow very much," and "I want to hear of your gathering Strawberries, we have had them three times here." She reports that she is not enjoying Walter Scott's newest creation Marmion, an epic poem about a sixteenth-century battle between the English and the Scots, although she suspects she should be.

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Background images: Photography by Todd Eberle unless otherwise noted. © 2006 Todd Eberle.