15 minutes of Austen, Part 2 with Emma Clery
Emma is a Professor of Eighteenth-Century Literature at the University of Southampton, with responsibilities for developing the link with Chawton House Library, a centre for the study of early women’s writing with a unique collection of rare books. She teaches undergraduate and MA courses based at Chawton and Southampton.
How have you developed links with Chawton House?
They were established quite a while before I came along, in the late 1990s. That was when it was bought on a long lease from descendants of Jane Austen’s brother, the Knight family, by an American businesswoman and enthusiast for Jane Austen called Sandy Lerner, who was co-founder of Cisco Systems.
She has supported animal welfare causes, and also research on the history of women’s writing. I believe she became interested at university in precursors to Austen, and began to collect rare works by early women writers. Driven by this interest in new discoveries in feminist scholarship of writers before Austen, she built up a large collection, quite unique, and in the end decided to set up a library and study centre at Chawton.The University has had close links with the Library since renovation began, and held a large conference on women’s writing pre-1830 to celebrate its opening in 2003.
We’re holding another in July 2013 to mark the 10th anniversary. The collection housed in the ‘big house’ in Chawton village is just a few hundred metres away from the house where Austen herself lived with her mother and sister, which was also owned by her brother. She would have visited Chawton House on quite a few occasions when her brother was living there; while he mainly lived in Kent he sometimes visited Chawton.
Can the average Austen enthusiast get into the library and have a look around?
Oh absolutely. Yes, there are tours every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. You have to phone them up or email them to book a place on those. Most students at the University [of Southampton] eventually take a course which involves going there on a field trip.
I teach three courses, at BA and MA levels, which involve a trip to Chawton. One is on the history of the book in the eighteenth-century, looking at books as material objects, another is on the engagement of Romantic-era women writers with public, political issues, and the MA course is specifically on Austen and the writers who influenced the development of her writing.
To find out more about Chawton House Library and the work it does, visit this website:http://www.chawton.org/.
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