California library acquires unpublished Austen family letters
The Huntington Library in California has recently acquired a collection of 52 unpublished letters, poems and other material from six generations of the Jane Austen’s mother’s family, the Leighs of Adlestrop.
Austen visited the Leigh family in Adlestrop, Gloucestershire several times and it has been claimed that the setting of Mansfield Park is partly based on the village.
The collection was acquired from a rare book and manuscript dealer from the UK. Vanessa Wilkie, curator of English manuscripts at the Huntington, said that the letters would provide a uniquely personal insight into the Regency world. The collection spans almost 200 years.
The letters reveal “the intimate, mundane, playful, and tragic aspects of the times”, said Wilkie. “You get a dear mother, affectionate father, dear son, dear cousin, dear brother, dear little niece, dear Madame, and even A. Nonymous, who writes a really funny letter that cautions against the dangers of falling in love with Miss Fortune.”
“Austen fans and scholars are certainly thirsty for anything connected to her life, and this collection is comprised of the writings of her ancestors, family, and kin. On the surface, people just get excited anytime anything is in close physical or intellectual proximity with a beloved figure like Austen,” said Wilkie. “Family relationships are also such a central theme to so many of Austen’s novels that it is quite natural to be curious about her own family and friends.”
While the Huntington has offered extracts from two letters, it has not disclosed further plans for the collection.
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