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Fickle Fortunes: Jane Austen and Germaine de Staël

[H]er precious soul I presume to hope reposes in a far superior Mansion.  May mine one day be reunited to it.

—Cassandra Austen to Fanny Knight (20 July 1817) 

The celebrated Madame de Stael died at Paris.

Hampshire Chronicle, Winchester (21 July 1817) 

July 18, 1817, saw the untimely death of a moderately successful provincial woman writer, who was destined to become one of the world’s best-known and most beloved novelists.  Four days earlier, a superstar of pan-European intellectual, political, and literary life had passed away in Paris, aged 51.  Jane Austen was mourned by close family members. Germaine de Staël was mourned by Europe. 

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Austen published a modest four novels during her life and two posthumously.  Her novels were quickly translated into French and exported to America, but although they were well thought of—Walter Scott’s 1816 review of Emma was favorable—she remained relatively unknown during her lifetime.  Staël was at the center of European literary networks, hosting famed salons in Paris and in Coppet (Switzerland) for a wide circle of politicians, writers, and intellectuals.  She was a very public figure from her childhood onwards—her father was a minister—and she was often judged on her life rather than on her writing.  In one of her early works, she claimed to be condemned to celebrity without being known. 

What did these authors know about each other?  In a letter to her sister, Cassandra, on 28 December 1808, Austen mentioned one of Staël’s most popular novels, Corinne, ou L’Italie, published in 1807, referring to an encounter with deaf acquaintance Mr. Fitzhugh:  “I recommended him to read Corinna.”  Sir James Mackintosh's 1833 memoirs indicate that Staël was less complimentary about Austen.  On reading Pride and Prejudice, she supposedly dismissed the work that was to become an integral part of the literary canon with just one word:  “vulgaire.” 

In the 200 years since these two women died, their fame and fortunes have realigned in ways that would have astonished them and their contemporaries.

In the Great Hall 


Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice. First edition. London: T. Egerton, 1813. (On loan from a private collection) 

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Jane Austen’s “own darling Child” was published in January 1813.  It was a quiet success from the moment of first publication.  The 1813 review in The British Critic praised it as “very far superior to almost all the publications of the kind which have lately come before us,” while The Critical Review celebrated “[t]he sentiments, which are dispersed over the work, [and] do great credit to the sense and sensibility of the authoress.”  The first translation was published in abridged and serial form in French in 1813, in four successive issues of the Genevan periodical the Bibliothèque Britannique.  It was not, however, until the latter half of the twentieth century that the work could truly be said to have attained global celebrity.

Germaine de Staël. Corinne ou L’Italie. First French edition. Paris: H. Nicolle, 1807. (Chawton House Library Collection; purchased thanks to a grant from the Friends of the National Libraries) 

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Corinne ou l’Italie by Madame de Staël-Holstein was first published in Paris on 1 May 1807 in two octavo volumes by the publisher Nicolle and printed on the presses of the Imprimerie des Annales des Arts et des Manufactures.  An overnight success by an already famous author, it was reprinted several times in different formats and served to increase her reputation Europe-wide.  Both French- and English-language versions (in three volumes) came out in London in 1807. 

Germaine de Staël. Corinne ou L’Italie. First London edition published in French. London: M. Peltier, 1807. (On loan from Catriona Seth) 

Germaine de Staël. Corinna, or Italy. First London edition translated into English. London: Samuel Tipper, 1807. (Chawton House Library Collection  

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Staël’s novel quickly appeared in London, in French.  Some preferred reading it in its original language, despite the English translation that appeared the same year.  In 1808, poet and diarist Melesina Trench wrote to fellow Irish author Mary Leadbeater, “Let me beg you to read ‘Corinne, ou L’Italie,’ by Madame de Staël, if you are a French as well as Latin scholar, for you positively must not see the brilliant ‘Corinne’ in her unbecoming English dress.  It is most woefully translated, but in French is a delightful work, and, though full of faults, so much more full of beauties, that you who are as candid a reader as you are capable of being a fastidious one, will admire.” 

In addition to incorporating political commentary, descriptions of Italy and its arts, and important questions about national identity, Staël’s second novel is a love story.  It tells the tale of a doomed love affair between Scottish nobleman Oswald, Lord Nelvil, and talented Italian artist and performer Corinne.  Staël’s heroine captured the imagination of many subsequent women writers.  Felicia Hemans, for example, opens her 1827 poem “Corinne at the Capitol” with a characterization of the heroine’s genius: “DAUGHTER of th’ Italian heaven! / Thou, to whom its fires are given.” 

Germaine de Staël. Corinne ou L’Italie. New edition, revised and corrected with illustrations. Paris: Ledentu & H. Nicolle, 1819. (On loan from Catriona Seth) 


This small 1819 edition of Corinne bears witness to the novel’s rapid and continuing success.  There had been at least seven French editions prior to this one.  It is often noted that the novel outsold the works of Walter Scott in the eighteen-teens.  Published in Paris by Ledentu and Nicolle, this edition boasts anonymous frontispieces.  The one included in the first volume shows Oswald’s first sight of the eponymous heroine, “the most celebrated woman of Italy,” as she is being crowned in the Capitol “as a poetess, writer and composer of extempore rhymes.”

In the Dining Room

Italy, mother of arts


Lady Lesley says no, that nothing will ever tempt her to forego the Amusements of Brighthelmstone for a Journey to Italy merely to see our Brother.
—Jane Austen, Lesley Castle (ca. 1792) 

The Italians are more remarkable for that which they have been and for that which they may be, than for what they really are.
—Germaine de Staël, Corinna, or Italy (1807) 

Like Jane Austen’s family and her fictional characters, Germaine de Staël enjoyed amateur theatricals and wrote several plays, which she performed with her friends.  Her character Corinne is interested in many art forms, playing the heroine in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  Much of Corinne is set in Italy, a traditional destination for wealthy Europeans on the Grand Tour.  Jane’s brother Edward Austen, later Knight, undertook such a tour, and he is depicted in Rome in front of the so-called Temple of Minerva Medica (in the portrait now in the Dining Room at Chawton House).  In Corinne, Staël’s Anglo-Italian heroine delights in showing the picturesque ruins of the Eternal City to Oswald, Lord Nelvil, the Scottish gentleman with whom she has a doomed relationship, during his tour of Italy in 1795. 

10a10b painting label

At the start of the novel, Corinne, a poetess living an independent life in Rome, is about to be crowned on the Capitol to celebrate her poetic talents.  She appreciates the arts and, in her villa at Tivoli, has a collection of famous statues and paintings by contemporaries like James Wallis, showing Cincinnatus or an episode from Ossian.  She purports not to like rural scenes when they have no allusion to fable or history but says of the painting above: 

What appears to me much better, in this way, is the manner of Salvator Rosa, who represents, as you see in this painting, a rock, torrents and trees, without a single living being, unless the flight of a bird recall to you the idea of life.  The absence of man in the midst of nature excites profound reflections.  What will become of the earth when abandoned by men? A work without design, but nevertheless still beautiful, the mysterious influence of which can only be attributed to the Divinity. 

The painting belonged to Auguste Pasquier, a close friend of Juliette Récamier.  Staël used Corinne to discuss artistic heritage, giving symbolic value to several works of art, but also to sketch out the idea that Italy, then a fragmented series of small states, could unite and become a great nation once again.

In the Tapestry Gallery 

Reading Austen and Staël

Delphine is cried down universally.  There are fine passages in it but altogether we are of the general opinion that it is tiresome and immoral.
—Maria Edgeworth, letter from Paris (16 January 1803) 

I have read Corinne with my father, and I like it better than he does. . . . But I will not dilate upon it in a letter; I could talk of it for three hours to you and my aunt.
—Maria Edgeworth, (April 1808) 

There is no story in it.
—Maria Edgeworth on reading Jane Austen’s Emma (1816) 

From the moment of publication in Paris, Staël’s writing made a splash across the Channel.  Her works were translated immediately into English and published in their original French in London.  She was read and much discussed by the literati, including Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan, Lord Byron, and Mary Shelley, all of whom mention her in letters or journal entries.  Staël and her female heroines inspired poetry, novels, and critical commentary and had a major impact on readers and, in particular, on women writers.  The great Anglo-Irish novelist Maria Edgeworth (1768–1849) read Staël’s works and Austen’s soon after publication.  But where Staël engaged, infuriated, and provoked conversations, admiration, and controversy, Austen was more quietly consumed.  It is likely that Edgeworth never finished Austen’s Emma, which she received as a presentation copy from the author herself.  Staël, on the other hand, was a source of inspiration for Edgeworth in her own writing. 

Germaine de Staël. Delphine: A Novel. First London edition translated into English. London: G. and J. Robinson, 1803. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


Delphine came out in 1802 and was rapidly translated into English, as this 1803 first London edition shows.  A tale of passion, told in letters and set in France and Switzerland during the French Revolution, it takes as its epigraph an idea expressed in Staël’s mother’s Miscellanea:  “A man ought to be capable of braving the opinion of the world, a woman must submit to it.”  The novel shows what havoc society can play with individuals’ feelings.

Maria Edgeworth. Leonora. First edition. London: J. Johnson, 1806. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


The Anglo-Irish author Maria Edgeworth (1768–1849) was greatly admired by Jane Austen, who saw her as something of a role model.  Edgeworth seems not to have thought much of Austen (as we have seen, she likely put aside her copy of Emma after the first volume).  But she admired Staël greatly, making a pilgrimage to her home at Coppet in Switzerland in 1820, three years after Staël’s death.  Leonora was the only one of Edgeworth’s many novels, like Staël’s Delphine, to use the epistolary form—a form that, by the early nineteenth century, was increasingly dated and unfashionable.  Leonora, however, is no simple tribute.  Like Anti-Delphine of the same year by Mrs. Byron (Elizabeth Strutt), it is critical of the overwrought, French, feminized, sensibility that so many Anglo-American writers rightly or wrongly saw in Staël’s original. 

Mrs. E. M. Foster[?]. The Corinna of England, and a Heroine in the Shade. First edition. London: B. Crosby and Co., 1809. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


Published anonymously in 1809 and sometimes attributed to a Mrs. E. M. Foster, The Corinna of England, and a Heroine in the Shade illustrates the impact of Staël’s second novel Corinne on this side of the channel.  Staël’s heroine is a woman of genius, who was thought implausible and excessive by some writers.  This English novel panders to the conservative reader who looked to literature to defend traditional values.  The 1809 Flowers of Literature notes that the novel “is a most ingenious and successful satire against the votaries of what is erroneously called sentiment,” but it also praises the author’s capacity to evoke sympathy as well as ridicule. 

This novel is available in a modern edition edited by Sylvia Bordoni as part of the Chawton House Library series of novels published from first and early editions in the Chawton House Library collection (Pickering & Chatto, 2008). 

Felicia Hemans. “Corinne at the Capitol.” Poems of Felicia Hemans. Edinburgh; London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1872. (Chawton House Library Collection) 

Germaine de Staël’s heroine Corinne was a model for many women who sought to legitimize their desire to write and publish their texts.  The poet Felicia Hemans (1793–1835), known for coining the phrase “the Stately homes of England” and for her 1826 poem “Casabianca,” held the novel in high esteem.  She celebrated the eponymous heroine in her poem “Corinne at the Capitol” (The Literary Souvenir, 1827).  The poem recalls the opening of book two of Staël’s novel, where Corinne is crowned in Rome as a poetess of genius. 

In the margins of her own copy of Staël’s book, Hemans wrote the French words “C’est moi” (’Tis I). 

In the Exhibition Room 

Public and private views 

Bonaparte had persecuted her in such a way, that it was said there were three powers in Europe: England, Russia and Madame de Staël.

—Victorine de Chastenay, Memoirs 1771–1815 (1896) 

Short and easy will be the task of the mere biographer.  A life of usefulness, literature, and religion, was not by any means a life of event.

—Henry Austen, “Biographical Notice of the Author” (1818) 

Austen, who famously suggested that “3 or 4 Families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on” (9–18 September 1814), moved four times in her life, within an 80-mile radius.  Born in Steventon, she moved to Bath in 1801, then in 1807 to Southampton when her father died, before settling in Chawton in 1809.  She remained at Chawton Cottage until just before her death in nearby Winchester.  In contrast, Staël’s marriage to the Swedish Ambassador, her tempestuous relationship with Napoleon, her interest in politics and travel, and her far-reaching friendship circle all meant that she was often on the move.  She was born in Paris to Swiss parents.  At different stages in her life she spent time in Montpellier, Normandy, and the Loire.  She first visited England as a child in 1776.  During the Revolution she moved from Paris to Switzerland, but in 1793 she also stayed in Surrey with her lover, the émigré Louis de Narbonne, Talleyrand, and Alexandre d’Arblay, Frances Burney’s future husband.  In 1813–1814 she returned to London, where she was feted as a celebrity.  From her base in Switzerland, she visited Weimar, Berlin, Milan, Rome, Naples, Florence, Bologna, Padua, Pisa, Venice, Vienna, Brno, Moscow, and Stockholm.  In a letter to Mme. de Berg in May 1814, she wrote that exile made her lose roots that tied her to Paris and that she had become European.

Germaine de Staël’s celebrity in life was such that people across Europe would make pilgrimages to get a glimpse of her.  Hampshire-born author Mary Russell Mitford (1787–1855) wrote in August 1813:  “I had the happiness, in the midst of this crowd, of getting a good sight of Madame de Staël.”  Unfortunately the sight did not greatly improve her opinion of the writer:  “Her learned works are too deep and too shallow.” 

In contrast, Jane Austen was no celebrity during her own lifetime, and she was not even widely known as an author in immediate Hampshire circles.  Mary Russell Mitford valued Austen’s work highly and rejoiced in a family connection with her, writing to a fellow admirer in 1815: 

I have discovered our great favourite, Miss Austen, is my countrywoman; that mamma knew all her family very intimately; and that she herself is an old maid (I beg her pardon—I mean a young lady) with whom mamma before her marriage was acquainted.  Mamma said that she was then the prettiest, silliest, most affected husband-hunting butterfly she ever remembers. 

Personal anecdotes from private correspondences and public accounts from published works provide complex and contradictory views of both writers.  Most critics and biographers would now agree that Austen did not shun a “public” life as much as her family claimed she did in the nineteenth century.  Staël, on the other hand, wished, at times, for the relative safety of anonymity. 

Jane Austen. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. First edition. London: John Murray, 1818. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


This posthumous publication of Austen’s final two novels was accompanied by a biographical notice by her brother Henry.  In it, he paints a portrait of a devout Christian who (although a sharp satirist) could never be unkind.  Jane is described as without affectation, faultless, and as a woman who “never uttered either a hasty, a silly, or a severe expression.”  Careful readers of Austen’s own letters may not recognize this pen portrait:  the author famously said of herself, “pictures of perfection . . . make me sick & wicked” (23–25 March 1817). 

Jane Austen. Sense and Sensibility. London: Richard Bentley, 1833. (This volume was originally part of the Knight family collection here at Chawton House and contains Montagu Knight’s bookplate. It was donated to us this year by Texan collector Sandra Clark.) 

Bentley’s “Standard Novels” series is a landmark publication—the first time Austen’s novels appeared as a set in the U.K. Henry Austen revised his 1817 biographical notice, introducing an anecdote about his sister’s refusal to meet Staël in London: 

a nobleman, personally un-known to her, but who had good reasons for considering her to be the authoress of that work [Mansfield Park], was desirous of her joining a literary circle at his house.  He communicated his wish in the politest manner, through a mutual friend, adding, what his Lordship doubtless thought would be an irresistible inducement, that the celebrated Madame de Staël would be of the party.  Miss Austen immediately declined the invitation.  To her truly delicate mind such a display would have given pain instead of pleasure. 

This account of a meeting that never was, twenty years after the fact, is a fascinating indicator of both what Austen’s family wished her to remain—a much-loved family member who happened to have written some novels—and what Staël seemed to some contemporaries, even after her death—a notorious, somewhat dangerous, signifier of all that was wrong with the public woman.  That Staël’s own novels were advertised at the back of the volume as the next “Standard Novels” to appear is an added irony. 

The Gentleman’s Magazine: and Historical Chronicle, Vol. LXXXVII (July 1817). (Chawton House Library Collection) 

Germaine de Staël died in Paris on July 14, 1817.  An anonymous article, dated July 15 in The Gentleman’s Magazine, announced the news and painted a complex portrait of the deceased as a woman renowned throughout Europe, very popular among her friends but “more remarkable for felicity of wit and sprightliness of fancy, than purity of taste, or correction of judgement.”  The article quotes extensively from France by Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan, published earlier that year, but distances itself from Owenson’s attitude to Staël, claiming, “we do not profess to concur entirely in the very high admiration entertained by the writer.” 

The Edinburgh Review, Vol. XXX (September 1818). (Chawton House Library Collection) 

This forty-page long review in one of the most influential English-language periodicals of the age discusses Staël’s posthumous Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution, stressing that no book could possess a higher interest than “the last, dying bequest of the most brilliant writer that has appeared in our days,” “the most powerful writer that her country has produced since the time of Voltaire and Rousseau—and the greatest writer, of a woman, that any time or any country has produced.”  The reviewer concludes the article on the work by “ascribing to its lamented author that perfection of masculine understanding and female grace and acuteness, which are so rarely to be met with apart, and never, we believe, were before united.”

Maria Norris. Life and Times of Madame de Staël. London: David Bogue, 1853. (Chawton House Library Collection) 

This early English biography of Staël focuses on her eventful political life, the turbulent events of the French Revolution, and her relationship with Napoleon, who exiled her from Paris.  The pages above give an account of Staël’s connection with the famous author Madame d’Arblay, better known as Frances Burney.  Despite an acquaintance dating from Staël’s stay in Richmond in 1793, Burney was reluctant to meet with her again in 1802. Norris notes:  “This little incident just shows that Madame de Staël was decidedly in disgrace at court; all the old rumours, and, no doubt, some new ones, were revived or invented by envy, and repeated by malice.  Yet we have not the slightest reason to believe one of these stories.” 

Julia Kavanagh. Woman in France during the Eighteenth Century. First edition. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1850. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


In this work, Julia Kavanagh’s intention is to write a group biography of French women of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, “remarkable women [who] exercised a power so extensive, and yet so complete, as to be unparalleled in the history of their sex.”  What results is a work infused with the spirit of the women who participated in the events of the French Revolution, including a highly Romanticized Marie Antoinette.  Of Staël, Kavanagh writes, “the most eminent men of the day eagerly gathered around a woman whose admirable and enthusiastic improvisations on political and literary subjects held them all spell-bound.” 

Julia Kavanagh. English Women of Letters: Biographical Sketches. First edition. London: Hurst and Blackett, 1863. (Chawton House Library Collection) 

Julia Kavanagh (1824–1877) was an Irish novelist, who spent much of her life in rural France, a setting which inspired much of her fiction.  In this work, a companion to her earlier French Women of Letters, her aim is “to show how far, for the last two centuries and more, women have contributed to the formation of the modern novel in the two great literatures of modern times—the French and the English.”  Her section on Jane Austen points out that most of Austen’s fame was posthumous.  She also cites at considerable length Walter Scott’s admiration of Austen, as well as quoting Austen’s remarkable defense of the novel from Northanger Abbey

James Edward Austen-Leigh. A Memoir of Jane Austen. First edition. London: Richard Bentley, 1870. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


This memoir of Jane Austen was written by her nephew, the son of her eldest brother, James.  It is the first full-length account of the author’s life.  James Edward had attended his aunt’s funeral in Winchester as a young man, but this publication was the product of his later years.  In the writing of it, Austen-Leigh relied on other family members’ recollections of “Aunt Jane.”  The resulting portrait is very much a family biography and denies any connections with the literary world.  James Edward notes that his aunt’s “talents did not introduce her to the notice of other writers . . . or in any degree pierce through the obscurity of her domestic retirement.” 

Evert A. Duyckinck. Portrait Gallery of Eminent Men and Women of Europe and America. New York: Johnson, Fry and Company, 1872. (From the Yablon collection at Chawton House Library) 


Biographies of both Jane Austen and Germaine de Staël feature in this “portrait gallery,” alongside such luminaries as Marie Antoinette, David Garrick, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Thomas Jefferson, Horatio Nelson, and Elizabeth Fry.  Of Staël, the author notes, “At the age of twenty she had attained a dangerous reputation as a wit and a prodigy.”  Of Austen’s lack of fame he says, “There is probably no other example in the history of English literature of an author of so much merit having courted or received so little personal attention.”

Fifty Famous Women: Their Virtues and Failings, and the Lessons of Their Lives. New York: Johnson, Fry and Company, 1872. (Chawton House Library Collection) 

This collection of essays on famous women includes such diverse characters as Christina of Sweden, Pocahontas, and Mary, Queen of Scots.  Although British women writers are represented, including Frances Burney, Charlotte Brontë, and Felicia Hemans, there is no mention of Jane Austen.  The section on Staël ends with a curious white-washing of her private life to fit domestic ideals of womanhood in the period:  “An affectionate daughter and a devoted wife, she in her turn had the happiness of seeing herself looked upon by her children with the most unalterable love”—a true Angel in the House! 

In the Exhibition Room 

Modern editions and family loyalties 

My Father, in one of his notes, writes: what a singular family ours is! It may be singular, but let it remain so.

—Germaine de Staël, “On the Character of Mr Necker and his Private Life” (1804) 

Germaine de Staël and Jane Austen both had loyal and supportive families, and subsequent generations did much for their posthumous reception. 

Jane and Cassandra Austen moved to the cottage in Chawton with their mother, thanks to their brother Edward Knight’s generosity.  Jane’s brother Henry Austen penned a “Biographical Notice of the Author,” which prefaced the 1818 edition of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.  He expanded it in 1833.  James Edward Austen-Leigh, son of another brother, James Austen, wrote the first full-length biography of his aunt, in 1870.  The portrait most often associated with Austen was adapted from an original sketch done by her sister, Cassandra, for this biography.  It is considerably more demure than the original.  In 1884, many of the letters of Jane Austen were edited and published by Edward Hugessen Knatchbull, her great-nephew.

Staël was an only child, adored by her parents, Jacques Necker and Suzanne, née Curchod, whose father, like Austen’s, was a protestant minister—though he died too early to know his granddaughter.  While Jacques Necker published numerous works on matters moral, theological, and political, he discouraged women from writing.  He thought they should spend their time promoting their husbands’ careers, which Suzanne Necker did very effectively through her Salon.  However, he edited his wife’s Miscellanea posthumously (Mélanges extraits des manuscrits de Mme. Necker, 1798; Nouveaux Mélanges, 1801).  In turn, Staël published her father’s works after his death (Manuscrits de M. Necker, 1804) and added a biographical article, “On the Character of Mr. Necker and his private life.”  Staël’s posthumous Considerations on the French Revolution was published by her son Auguste and her son-in-law Victor de Broglie.  The first proper biography of her was written by her cousin Albertine Necker-de Saussure.  In 1820–1821, Auguste de Staël oversaw the publication of seventeen volumes of his late mother’s complete works, and his own unpublished writings were edited by his sister Albertine after his death.  Several subsequent publications about Germaine de Staël and her relatives were written by descendants, including Othenin d’Haussonville, Béatrix d’Andlau, and Pauline de Pange. 

Madame Necker-de Saussure. Notice sur le caractèré et les écrits de Madame de Staël. First edition. Londres: Chez Treuttel et Würtz, 1820. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


This is the first full-length biography of Germaine de Staël, and it was also printed at the start of her son’s edition of her complete works.  The author of this biography was Staël’s cousin Albertine Necker-de Saussure, who took up her pen at the request of her subject’s son and daughter.  She wrote that, to her, Germaine de Staël seemed always to have been young yet never to have been a child. 

Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice. Ed. K. M. Metcalfe. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1912. (On loan from Janine Barchas) 


Many of the modern incarnations of Austen’s work have been edited by women, including this early twentieth-century edition of Pride and Prejudice, edited by Katherine Metcalfe, a tutor at Oxford’s Somerville College.  Metcalfe was married to Robert Chapman, who went on as R. W. Chapman to publish Austen’s collected novels in 1923 and a collection of her letters in 1932.  The inscription here is from Metcalfe herself to her uncle. 

Letters of Jane Austen. Ed. Edward, Lord Brabourne. London: Richard Bentley, 1884. (Chawton House Library Collection) 

Jane Austen’s Letters to Her Sister Cassandra and Others. Ed. R. W. Chapman. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


Edward Hugessen Knatchbull, 1st Baron Brabourne, was the son of Austen’s niece Fanny Catherine Knight.  Fanny inherited the bulk of Jane Austen’s letters to her sister in 1845 and passed them on to her son, who published the first selected edition of Austen’s letters in 1884.  R. W. Chapman was the next editor to publish a more complete version of Austen’s letters nearly fifty years later; a second Chapman edition appeared in 1952. 

Jane Austen. Œuvres romanesques complètes. Trans. Pierre Arnaud, Pierre Goubert and Jean-Paul Pichardie. Paris: Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 2013. (On loan from Jane Austen’s House Museum) 

Madame de Staël. Œuvres. Ed. Catriona Seth, with Valérie Cossy. Paris: Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 2017. (Chawton House Library Collection)  

Jane Austen and Germaine de Staël have been published in a wide variety of editions since the late nineteenth century—some prestigious, such as the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade editions of their works, and some more mainstream, such as this 2010 Barnes and Noble edition of Austen’s collected works.

In the Exhibition Room 

Austen, Staël, and their contemporaries: Isabelle de Montolieu

30The Franco-Swiss author Isabelle de Montolieu (1751–1832) was a friend of Germaine de Staël, an enthusiastic reader of Staël’s works, and the first translator of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (Raison et Sensibilité, 1815) and Persuasion (La Famille Elliot, 1821).  She and Jane Austen shared the Paris publisher Arthus Bertrand, although Jane Austen was unaware that her books were on Paris bookshelves in her own lifetime. Montolieu’s popularity as a writer in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was Europe-wide.  She was the author of a novel, Caroline de Lichtfield (1786), that met with considerable success in England. 

In her translation of Sense and Sensibility, Montolieu recasts Austen’s Marianne as Maria, a true creature of sensibility, in the exact same vein as Staël’s heroines Corinne and Delphine.  She makes significant changes to Austen’s text:  the French Maria is much more inclined to swoons!  Montolieu’s translation of Persuasion includes Henry Austen’s “Biographical Notice” of 1818 and a lengthy preface by the translator.  In this preface, Montolieu claims that she has spoken to an Englishman who pointed out to her that Henry Austen underestimated both Austen’s originality as a writer of fiction and her popularity in her native country.  Her conclusion seems, in 1821, remarkably prescient:  “Her premature death is therefore a great loss, not only for her friends, but for the whole world.” 

Isabelle de Montolieu. Caroline of Lichtfield. Trans. Thomas Holcroft. London: G. G. J. and J. Robinson, 1786. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


This 1785 French sentimental novel by Staël’s fellow Franco-Swiss writer Isabelle de Montolieu is a beauty-and-the-beast type narrative, in which the beautiful Caroline overcomes her initial prejudice against the man who will become her husband.  Jane Austen read and admired it, and it was enjoyed across Europe, as this English translation by Thomas Holcroft attests.  The Anglo-Irish author Maria Edgeworth met Montolieu in Lausanne in September 1820.  Montolieu spoke to her fellow novelist about her own composition practices:  “I never,” said she, “could invent an original story—but give me the first hint, and I can go on and supply all the details and characters and feelings.”  This practice of embellishment certainly informed Montolieu’s translations:  she is best known today for being one of Austen’s earliest translators. 

Letter from Isabelle de Montolieu to Arthus Bertrand. May 1814. (Chawton House Library collection, a recent gift by Deborah Barnum) 

This letter is from Montolieu to the Paris-based publisher both she and Austen shared.  There is no mention of Austen’s novels in the letter.  In fact, the focus of the note is on Swiss Family Robinson, a Swiss-German novel by Johann David Wyss, published in 1812 and translated into French by Montolieu in 1813.  Montolieu’s celebrity and popularity was such that it was her translations that became the source text for the European spread of the novels she translated.  It was her Swiss Family Robinson that was translated into English, and her version of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion that travelled across Europe in the nineteenth century. 

Sophy Mackie. “Account of Books I have Read.” Circa 1813? (On deposit from descendant David Giles) 

This little manuscript testifies to a practice that young girls in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were encouraged in:  keeping a reading journal.  Sophy Mackie came from a local family—she was the daughter of Dr. John Mackie, who settled in Southampton as an eminent physician.  There is no clear evidence that Sophy knew the Austen women, but they would certainly have been moving in the same circles in Southampton from 1807 to 1809.  Sophy’s record of reading Isabelle de Montolieu’s Caroline de Lichtfield is one of great enthusiasm—and attests, too, to her excellent French, a key accomplishment for a young lady.  “Never have I read a book that diverted me and interested me more,” she wrote; “the heroine is so charming, so good natured, so young, so innocent and so gentle, that one cannot help but love her.” 

In the Exhibition Room 

Austen, Staël, and their contemporaries: Juliette Récamier

34   35

Juliette Récamier (1777–1849) was a renowned beauty, and an intimate friend of Germaine de Staël.  Her salon was a meeting place for literary and political figures of the French elite.  Like Staël, Récamier angered Napoleon, in her case by refusing to act as a Lady in Waiting to the Empress Josephine.  She was exiled from Paris, spending time in Naples and also at Staël’s home at Coppet on the banks of Lake Geneva. In her later years, impoverished, she returned to Paris, settling in a former convent, l’Abbaye aux Bois.  Through Staël, Récamier became close friends with Benjamin Constant.  Constant was Staël’s lover and intellectual companion, likely the father of her daughter Albertine and himself the author of a novel, Adolphe (1816), which has been compared with Staël’s Corinne.  Récamier also befriended the French author Chateaubriand.  Récamier’s well-travelled and well-connected life in continental Europe seems very far removed from the provincial confines of Jane Austen’s life in Hampshire.  How interesting, then, that Récamier’s portrait has illustrated several recent Austen-inspired fan fictions.

Juliette Récamier’s library inventory. Circa 1850. (On loan from the University of Aberystwyth) 

This inventory of the books in Juliette Récamier’s library was compiled after her death.  The books date mostly from the early nineteenth century.  All the major eighteenth-century French thinkers are represented—Diderot, Rousseau, Voltaire—as well as a great many English historians and rhetoricians—Gibbon, Hume, Blair, and eight volumes of The Spectator.  It contains comparatively little fiction, favoring the sentimental novel:  Henry Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling (1771) is a notable inclusion.  While Staël’s De l’Allemagne< is included, there is no sign of any Austen, only the inclusion of the anthology Elegant Extracts, which may remind Austenites of Robert Martin’s reading in Austen’s Emma

Portrait of Mme Récamier, par David. (On loan from Catriona Seth) 


Jane Austen—according to most scholars—never sat for a formal portrait.  Staël, on the other hand, was painted by several celebrated practitioners, including two women:  Marie Éléonore Godefroid (1778–1849) and Elisabeth Vigée le Brun (1755–1842).  Staël’s friend Juliette Récamier was considered to be a great beauty and was painted several times by prominent French portraitists.  Jacques-Louis David’s 1800 portrait of her (now in the Louvre) and François Gerard’s 1805 portrait (now in the Musée Carnavalet) are the best-known. This little miniature is after David; it is typical of the collectable portraits of beautiful women that were so popular in the opening decades of the nineteenth century.

In the Exhibition Room 

Austen, Staël, and their contemporaries: Byron

38In an 1814 letter to Cassandra, Austen noted, “I have read the Corsair, mended my petticoat, & have nothing else to do” (5–8 March 1814).  She was clearly just as familiar with Lord Byron’s poetry as any literary-minded figure in the period would have been:  in addition to the Corsair, she included references to other poems in the scenes between Anne Elliot and Captain Benwick in Persuasion.  Austen did not move in the literary circles that included the man referred to by his mistress Lady Caroline Lamb as “mad, bad and dangerous to know.”  Austen, Staël, and Byron shared a publisher, John Murray II.  In 1815 Murray offered Jane Austen £450 for the copyright of Emma but wanted the copyright of Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park included. Tellingly, in 1813 Germaine de Staël received £1,500 for De l’Allemagne

Staël knew Byron well.  She hosted Byron at her home in Coppet on the banks of Lake Geneva in 1816, while Percy and Mary Shelley were nearby.  The composition of Frankenstein started that “year without a summer.”  A conversation between Byron and Staël, probably from this time, was recounted by Marguerite, Countess of Blessington, in 1823, and gives a sense of the nature of their relationship: 

Byron observed, that he once told Madame de Staël that he considered her Delphine and Corinne as very dangerous productions to be put into the hands of young women.  I asked him how she received this piece of candour, and he answered:—Oh!  just as all such candid avowals are received—she never forgave me for it.  She endeavoured to prove to me, that, au contraire, the tendencies of both her novels were supereminently moral. 

Lord Byron. Letter to John Murray II. 21 August 1819. Facsimile. (From the Murray Papers at the National Library of Scotland.)

This letter is from Byron to his publisher, John Murray.  In the poem at its center, Byron uses Murray’s voice to write a letter to his friend and physician Polidori, who has sent him a manuscript play for consideration.  The section on Staël’s death is lengthy and gives a good sense of the gossip about her life that was prevalent in literary circles across Europe.  When the poem was published as “Satiric Epistle From Mr. Murray to Dr. Polidori” in nineteenth-century editions of Byron’s poetry, the lines about Staël’s miscarriages, her illegitimate children, her marriage to Rocca, and that she “died a Papist” were excluded.  So, too, was his back-handed compliment:  “For a Woman/Her talents surely were uncommon.” 

Commonplace and sketch book. Circa 1823–1834. (On loan from a private collection) 

Despite Byron’s casual and persistent misogyny, a great many women admired and were inspired by his scandalous life and by his poetry.  This little sketch of the Chateau of Chillon—not far from Staël’s Chateau Coppet on the banks of Lake Geneva—illustrates the famous poem that Byron wrote after visiting the dungeons of Chillon with Percy Bysshe Shelley in June 1816.  The poem was published by John Murray in December 1816.  The verse displayed here seems to have been copied out in 1823.

In the Oak Room 

The spirit of the place

Chawton may be called the second, as well as the last home of Jane Austen. . . . Chawton must also be considered the place most closely connected with her career as a writer; for there it was that, in the maturity of her mind, she either wrote or rearranged, and prepared for publication the books by which she has become known to the world.

—James Edward Austen-Leigh, A Memoir of Jane Austen (1870) 

More wit is expended in Coppet in a single day than in many countries in a whole year.

—Karl Viktor von Bonstetten, letter to Friederike Brun 


Both of the places where Austen and Staël spent their days have become sites of pilgrimage.  Jane Austen spent most of her life in Hampshire, rarely travelling beyond the county borders.  She was born in Steventon, the parish of which her Father was the incumbent, in 1775 and moved to the cottage in Chawton in 1809 with her mother, sister, and Miss Lloyd.  She made frequent visits to her brother Edward in the “Great House”: his descendants now like to say that she would have sat in the Oak Room.  Her mother and sister are buried in the churchyard at Chawton. She herself is in Winchester, where she died.  The Austen cottage and Chawton House have become places of pilgrimage for Janeites from all over the world. 

Germaine de Staël was born in Paris and died there, but she spent much of her time in exile.  Her base outside France was the Château de Coppet, a large manor by the shores of Lake Geneva, which her parents Jacques and Suzanne Necker had bought before the Revolution.  She hosted many famous visitors from across Europe, including Byron, Humboldt, and Récamier.  Her regular circle of close intellectual friends, including numerous writers famed for their political, aesthetic, or philosophical works—like Constant, the Schlegel brothers, and Sismondi—became known as the “Groupe de Coppet.”  Still owned by her descendants, Staël’s Swiss home houses a small museum dedicated to her memory. 

Postcard showing Germaine de Staël’s bedroom. Available from the Chateau de Valençay, Loire Valley, France. (On loan from a private collection) 

The Chateau de Valençay in the Loire Valley was purchased by Germaine de Staël’s former lover and friend, Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, Bishop of Autun, in 1803, with the help of Napoleon.  Talleyrand and Staël had fallen out in 1800, and in Delphine Talleyrand featured as Madame de Vernon, the heroine’s duplicitous mother.  They must, however, have maintained some affection for one another.  In Considerations on the French Revolution, Staël described Talleyrand as a charming and graceful politician: “the most agreeable man that the old government produced.”  The bed shown in the postcard was Staël’s.  It was acquired by Talleyrand after her death, and a room was set up in his chateau in her memory. 

The Journal of Louisa Lushington. 1821–1822. (Chawton House Library Collection) 

Louisa Lushington was the daughter of the British Ambassador to Naples. In August 1821 she made a visit to Jane Austen’s brother Edward Knight and his family at Godmersham Park in Kent, and she gives a lively description of the entire family.  Louisa was a literary woman:  she comments extensively on the writings of Ann Radcliffe and Frances Trollope in her journal. But she makes no mention of Jane Austen’s novels in relation to her visit to Godmersham Park, which leads one to suspect that she had not—at this stage at least—read them. 

The Journal of Sophy Mackie. 1815–1816. (Chawton House Library Collection) 

Sophy Mackie was a young English woman who travelled extensively in Europe with her family in 1815 and 1816.  Here, we see her account of her time in and around Geneva:  Byron and Polidori are both referenced as being in the area, and Mackie gives a good description of the circles she moved on the peripheries of.  Although her father and brother met Staël—and indeed dined with her and Rocca at Coppet—there is no sense that Sophy and her mother did likewise.  Staël’s reputation was such that a young, unmarried, English woman was best advised to protect herself from damage to her own reputation by association. 

Elbert Hubbard. Little Journeys to the Homes of Famous Women. New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1897. (From the Yablon Collection at Chawton House Library) 


Elbert Hubbard was an American writer, publisher, and artist, who founded an Arts and Crafts community in the state of New York in 1895.  His Little Journeys is part biography, part travelogue.  In his account of visiting Jane Austen’s birthplace of Steventon, Hubbard talks of the quiet sense of place:  “it comes to you that the clouds and the blue sky and the hedgerows and the birds and the cows and the crows are all just as Jane Austen knew them—no change.”  At Staël’s Coppet, he feels the weight of history:  “Could Coppet speak it must tell of Voltaire and Rousseau who had knocked at its gates; of John Calvin; of Montmorency; of Hautville; of Fanny Burney and Madame Récamier and Girardin and Lafayette and hosts of others who are to us but names, but who in their day were greatest among all the sons of men.” 

Basil Merrett. Famous Authors and Poets Postcards. Early to mid-twentieth century. (On loan from Catriona Seth) 


Little is known of Basil Merrett.  Some sources indicate he was born in 1910 and educated in Lydney, Gloucestershire.  He was a psychiatric patient at Bethlem Royal Hospital in London, possibly as a result of war trauma.  Among the 1000 or so works he is known to have created are several sets drawn on postcards and characterized by the juxtaposition of text and pictures on the front and copious text on the back.  Jane Austen, shown alongside the cottage in Chawton, and Anne Louise [Germaine] de Staël next to the Château de Coppet are numbered 67 and 84 respectively in a series on “Famous Authors and Poets.”

In the Long Gallery 

Adaptation and literary tourism 

She became an authoress entirely from taste and inclination.  Neither the hope of fame nor profit mixed with her early motives.

—James Edward Austen-Leigh, A Memoir of Jane Austen (1870) 

47c   47d   47e

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is a global phenomenon.  Her novels form an integral part of the literary canon.  In 2017, she joined Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare as the only writers to have circulated on English banknotes.  One might use these Austen banknotes to purchase Austen playing cards, fridge magnets, finger puppets, gin, or toothpaste. Jane Austen’s novels and life have been adapted, remixed, and translated into an ever-growing body of films, television series, books, graphic novels, YouTube channels, and even video games—a thriving media industry. 

Pride and Prejudice has been adapted multiple times:  the 1940 movie starred Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier, while the 1995 adaptation memorably starred Colin Firth in a soaked shirt, and the 2005 version starred Keira Knightley.  Other adaptations include the Bollywood movie Bride and Prejudice; The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, in which Elizabeth becomes a vlogger; Bridget Jones’s Diary; and the BBC murder mystery series Death Comes to Pemberley, based on the novel by P. D. James.  Lovers of the undead were thrilled when Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was published in 2009, followed by a film adaptation in 2016.  Book adaptations of Pride and Prejudice include prequels, sequels, murder mysteries, romances, and erotica.  Some pick up Austen’s story a few years after its close, while others reimagine the same narrative through the eyes of servants or, like Austen herself, give the characters their own backstories and afterlives.  James Edward Austen-Leigh noted that Austen “took a kind of parental interest in the beings whom she had created”: “she would, if asked, tell us many little particulars about the subsequent career of some of her people.” 

Today, experiencing Jane Austen goes beyond books and films and into the world of interaction.  It is now possible to attend immersive Austen festivals and Regency re-enactments, to host an Austen-themed wedding, to enter her fictional universe via online and video games.  While Germaine de Staël inspired pilgrimages from her contemporary admirers, today it is Jane Austen fans who travel to walk in her footsteps, visiting Steventon, Chawton, Bath, Southampton, and Winchester, as well as places that featured in her novels and their adaptations.  And 200 years after her death, Austen’s popularity shows no sign of dying down. 

Below are images of modern editions and memorabilia relating to Jane Austen and Germaine de Staël.

Drinking Chocolate Advertisement. Early twentieth century. (On loan from Catriona Seth) 

In a series advertising a well-known brand of drinking chocolate, “Le Cacao Poulain,” n° 24 of a series on “Famous Frenchwomen” was Mme. de Staël, shown here in a stylized version of the famous portrait of her wearing a turban, above a scene in which a man appears to be reading to a woman while two other men talk in the background—probably an allusion to her Salon.  The short but enthusiastic biographical note on the back of the card concludes that she had the reputation of being an admirable conversationalist, a brilliant mind, and a talented writer. 

Pride and Prejudice wedding dress. (On loan from Anna Hilditch, handmade by her mother) 

49a   49b

This wedding dress made of two parts—a simple shift underdress with pearl buttons and a short sleeved top coat of cream silk—is a handmade replica of the dress worn by Jennifer Ehle in the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.  This television adaption by Andrew Davies also contains the infamous “lake scene,” in which Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy takes a plunge in the Pemberley lake and suffers a particularly awkward encounter with Elizabeth in his soaked shirt. 

Embroidered detail taken from Vigée le Brun’s 1809 portrait of Germaine de Staël as Corinne. (Created in 2017 by Kirsten Doogue, Friend of Chawton House Library) 

50b   50a

Élisabeth Vigée le Brun was a talented and famed portrait painter.  She was patronized by Marie Antoinette and painted many of the most important and influential women of the day:  Marie Antoinette, Emma Hart (later to become Lady Hamilton), and Germaine de Staël.  She went to stay with Staël in 1807 in Coppet.  She had read Staël’s Corinne and suggested painting Staël as her heroine.  The result was a portrait that Staël did not much like when she received it from Paris in 1809.  Although Le Brun had done her best to capture a look of inspiration on her subject’s face, Staël was obviously displeased with the result; she refused to display it and had it repainted by Swiss painter Firmin Massot shortly after.  This gold pattern is a replica of the design adorning the neckline of Staël’s classical costume in Vigée le Brun’s painting, but it is missing from the more modern neckline painted by Massot. 

In the Staircase Hall 

The many genres of Germaine de Staël

This case gives a flavor of the diversity of Staël’s literary output and also brings together books by Austen and Staël that have been apart for over a century,

Germaine de Staël. De la littérature, considérée dans ses rapports avec les institutions sociales. Londres: Chez Colburn, 1813. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


De la littérature, considérée dans ses rapports avec les institutions sociales, first published in 1800, attempts to make sense of the relationship between text and context.  It takes a wide historical and geographical approach, from classical antiquity to the time of writing, and including references to different European traditions.  As its full title suggests, there is a political aspect to Staël’s investigation of the literatures of the North and of the South:  one of her wishes is to determine how to guarantee individual freedom in the virtuous republic that she had hoped would emerge after the French Revolution. 

Germaine de Staël. Delphine. Third edition. Paris: Maradan, 1803. (On loan from Catriona Seth) 


Having written various political and philosophical works, Germaine de Staël turned her hand to the novel.  Delphine, published in 1802, is an epistolary tale of doomed love, with the turmoil of the French Revolution its backdrop.  The novel, as Staël suggested, the story of women’s destiny, also shows that prejudice is often the enemy of true feelings.  Delphine was a huge success, already in a third edition the year after it was published.  This copy is dated “an XI”—year 11 according to the Revolutionary calendar, or 1803. 

Germaine de Staël. Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution. London: Baldwin, Craddock and Joy, 1818. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


Germaine de Staël’s Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution was edited posthumously by her son and son-in-law.  During the years of political upheaval in France, she wrote and published articles and pamphlets.  Her Considerations, written at the end of her life, shows her trying, with the benefit of hindsight, to make sense of the historical turmoil through which she had lived.  As in her earliest works, she defends the record of Jacques Necker, one of Louis XVI’s ministers, indicating that her initial intention had been to confine herself to “an examination of the political actions and writings of my Father.” 

Germaine de Staël. Lettres sur les ouvrages et le caractère de J. J. Rousseau. First edition. Paris: s. n., 1788. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


Germaine de Staël’s Lettres sur les ouvrages et le caractère de J. J. Rousseau came out in 1788.  She was a great admirer of Rousseau, and in this text, divided into six letters, she takes a stance on works still considered disreputable, like Emile, The Social Contract, and the early books of the Confessions.  Staël’s work was published anonymously, first in a small print-run and then reprinted.  In this copy, an eighteenth-century reader has added in the author’s name. 

Germaine de Staël. Réflexions sur le suicide. Londres: Chez L. Deconchy, 1813. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


Staël appears to have started drafting her Reflections on Suicide in 1811; it was published two years later.  As her Letters on J.J. Rousseau show, she initially believed that Rousseau had taken his own life.  Several of her fictional characters—for example, Zulma and Delphine—commit suicide.  In the 1796 treatise De l’Influence des passions, suicide is excused.  Staël, who dedicated her Reflections on Suicide to the Prince Royal of Sweden, explained that she had written it because she was unhappy and that meditation was the best way to fortify her soul.  In this text, which quotes Shakespeare and includes references to Lady Jane Grey, she concluded that noble resignation was a higher moral attitude than revolt.

Germaine de Staël. Zulma, and Other Tales. London: Henry Colburn, 1813. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


This first volume of an 1813 London edition brings together early works by Germaine de Staël, including her novella Zulma.  In the tale, a strong-willed “savage” of the “Oronooko” slays her unfaithful lover before taking her own life.  Also included is the short story “Mirza,” which takes place in Senegal, and the “Essay on Fictions,” in which Staël discusses the state of fiction as well as developing ideas about how novels can illustrate the human condition better than theoretical treatises.  Volume 2 contains two other short stories:  “Adelaïde and Theodore” and “Pauline.”  All of these works had first appeared in French in 1794–1795. 

Germaine de Staël. De L’Allemagne. Paris, Librairie de Firmin Didot Frères, 1850. (Knight Family Collection) 

Germaine de Staël. Germany. First English edition. London: John Murray, 1813. (Chawton House Library Collection) 


Germaine de Staël finished her seminal work on Germany, De l’Allemagne, in 1810.  The printed copies were seized by the police and destroyed before they could be circulated.  The Minister for Police, Savary declared, “This book is not French.”  Fortunately, Staël managed to save the manuscript, and, thanks to John Murray, the first edition came out in London in 1813.  It was translated rapidly and republished several times on both sides of the Channel, exerting a profound effect on knowledge about German culture and traditions.  The French copy here belonged to Austen’s own family. 

Chawton House 1908 Library Catalogue. (Knight Family Collection) 

Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice. London: Richard Bentley, 1833. (Chawton House Library Collection) 

In 1908 this Bentley edition of Pride and Prejudice was in the library at Chawton House, along with the other volumes that make up Bentley’s complete works.  Also present was Germaine de Staël’s De L’Allemagne.  In February 2017, Chawton House Library was delighted to welcome the Bentley volumes back again from America, generously donated by North American Friend of the Library Sandra Clark.  After almost 110 years, Austen and Staël are back together under one roof.

In the Lower Reading Room 

In Jane Austen's hand

The final items in this exhibition are some of the rarest, and they speak to the ways that Austen’s value and reputation continue to grow. 

Sir Charles Grandison,” or the Happy Man, A Comedy. Manuscript play in five acts in Jane Austen’s hand. (Chawton House Library Collection) 

59a   59b   59c

(Click here to see a larger version.)

In this manuscript, the five lengthy volumes of Samuel Richardson’s epistolary novel Sir Charles Grandison (1753–1754) become a very short five-act play.  Austen family tradition suggested that the adaptation was dictated to Austen by her niece Jane Anna Elizabeth (“Anna,” 1793–1872), the daughter of her eldest brother, James (1765–1843), and a member of the most literary branch of Austen’s immediate family.  Like the family, scholars are united in agreeing that the handwriting is Austen’s own, although opinion is somewhat divided on whether the composition was Austen’s or a more collaborative affair. 

Letter from Jane Austen to Cassandra Austen. 24 December 1798. Steventon. (On loan from the private collection of Sandra Clark, Texas)  

In this letter to her sister, Jane Austen writes of her close family, extended family, and friends.  All her brothers—except George, who was in some way disabled and did not live with the family—are mentioned directly, and a great many acquaintances are introduced as dancing partners, admirers of Jane’s “black cap,” and future guests at dinner.  The details—about gowns to be made or purchased, stomach complaints, and hen houses—would almost certainly have been viewed as “vulgaires” by Staël.  But the letter contains many examples of Austen’s keen eye for a witty episode and careful turn of phrase.  Thirteen years before she became a published author, she was already observing the society that would become the focus of her mature work. 

Jane Austen’s Signature. (On loan from Sandra Clark) 


This is an authentic Jane Austen signature, cut from one of her letters.  Although her novels never bore her name in her own lifetime—instead published as “by a Lady” or “by the author of . . . ”—Austen’s name, her image, and her work have now become globally recognized.  There is a growing public appetite for authentic material objects associated with Austen: a lock of hair probably—but not definitely—hers was auctioned for £5,640 in June 2008 by Dominic Winter Auction House; a turquoise ring belonging to Austen was bought at auction by singer Kelly Clarkson in 2012 for £152,450.  (The ring was subject to an export bar and is now on permanent display at Jane Austen’s House Museum.) 


The visitor to the exhibition left to take tea in the Old Kitchen, to visit the gardens, to reflect on the divergent careers of two brilliant women. No one came without a knowledge of Jane Austen. Many visited having never heard of Staël and departed wanting to know her and her writings better.


The curators of the exhibition were extremely grateful for the support of the Chawton House Library librarian, Dr. Darren Bevin, who—with his team of volunteers—assisted with all aspects of the exhibition preparation.  We also gratefully acknowledge the support of the Garfield Weston and Foyle Foundations, whose generous grants enabled the purchase of the display cases that made the exhibition possible.  Generous grants were also provided by the University of Southampton and the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages at the University of Oxford:  a version of the exhibition was displayed in the Voltaire Room at the Taylor Institution Library in November 2017.  Several private individuals—including Huw Prall—lent items to the exhibition.  Most are named above, and we record our grateful thanks here.  Finally, thank you to JASNA members, and to all the other societies and individuals who donated generously to the exhibition and who continue to donate to our campaigns:  without you, nothing would be possible. 

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