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Mystery parcel reveals rare Jane Austen book

Posted: 21st May 2016
Mystery parcel reveals rare Jane Austen book

Imagine the excitement in receiving a rare edition of Jane Austen’s Persuasion in the post? This is exactly what happened to a school teacher in Boston. Eleanor Capasso was beside herself with emotion upon discovering a rare edition of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

Eleanor Capasso, a teacher at Ayer High School, received a mysterious parcel addressed to the English department. The contents revealed a tattered book; a rare edition of Jane Austen’s Persuasion featuring gold embossing bearing the initials ‘JA’. After closer inspection, she discovered it belonged to Lillian Flood, a former student of the school who had won it in a competition in 1900.

Accompanying the old leather-bound book was a letter, to ‘anyone who cares’ written by Alice B. Mantle of Pawleys Island, South Carolina. Her letter mentioned that she had found the rare book in box of ‘junk’ in her mother’s garage. Mrs Mantle, who lived in Massachusetts at the time attended many auctions. She would simply buy various items for as low as fifty cents to a dollar. Although the book was in poor condition, she thought it might be of interest to the English Department at the school.

Literary and Austen experts, Deidre Lynch and Ernest Bernhaum from Harvard University, examined the evidence having both concluded the book is likely to have been printed in 1899. Nonetheless, the copy would still be over a hundred years old.

Undeterred that the book was not a first edition, Capasso was determined to trace Flood’s family. She was more interested in Lillian Flood, tracing her family and returning the book. The power of the internet and social media helped her to obtain small pieces of information that eventually created the whole picture. The trail led her to Lillian Flood’s grandchildren, Peter and John Moses who lived in New York.

The Moses brothers were initially sceptical to hear Capasso’s story, but soon were overcome with emotion when they realised the link to their grandmother, ‘Lilly’. Although, the family knew little of their grandmother’s past, they were delighted to receive the book from her. Both brothers have been touched by the experience and have embarked on finding out more about their heritage. One of the brothers, Peter Moses, an avid Austen fan, is likely to pass the book down to his daughter who is a published author. Peter acknowledged that the book was a wonderful link to his grandmother and Austen.

Capasso’s story now enters a new chapter, where she intends to write about her experience that will feature heavily in her own novel.


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