Throwback Thursday: The gifts of Jane Austen

I've rather grandly entitled this blog post 'The Gifts of Jane Austen'. I don't want to mislead you, this isn't an exhaustive list. Just three gifts of note.

Jane Austen famously dedicated her novel Emma to the Prince Regent in 1816.

A book dedication wins serious gift-giving points but I don't think it counts as a gift. I reason thusly: in 1815, James Stanier Clarke, librarian to the Prince Regent wrote to Austen suggesting in an it's-up-to-you-but-I-would-but-only-if-you'd-like-but-you'd-better kind of way:

It is certainly not incumbent on you to dedicate your work now in the Press to His Royal Highness: but if you wish to do the Regent that honour either now or at any future period, I am happy to send you that permission which need not require any more trouble or solicitation on your Part.

It is unlikely that Austen would have dedicated the novel to him of her own volition, given that she she said she 'hated' him in a letter to her friend Martha Lloyd in 1813.

The other gift associated with Austen is the topaz cross given to her by her sea-faring brother Henry.

jane austen topaz necklace

Henry actually bought two topaz crosses (pictured above) for Jane and sister Cassandra with prize money from his activity in the Navy. Jane's is the one on the left.

The crosses are mentioned in a letter between the sisters:

“[Charles] has received 30 pounds for his share of the privateer & expects 10 pounds more–but of what avail is it to take prizes if he lays out the produce in presents to his Sisters.  He has been buying Gold chains & Topaze Crosses for us;–he must be well scolded.”

Letter from Jane Austen to Cassandra (May 27, 1801)

Jane's cross assumes an alias in the novel Mansfield Park. Fanny’s brother William gives her an amber cross, which, in Cinderella-style, only her true love’s chain can pass through.

And then there is this, a humble paper needle case.

It was made by Jane Austen as a gift to her niece, Louisa Knight.

It features foliage detail in watercolour on the front and it is inscribed to Lousia 'With Aunt Jane's love'. 

We know very little of Jane Austen's internal life and as a result, she tends to be mythologised. She is viewed as a woman who was somehow unfulfilled for never having found her own hero with whom she could fall in love and marry. But this needle case, more specifically the inscription 'with Aunt Jane's love'  is evidence that love and affection most certainly filled and fulfilled her life and she certainly wasn't passive, or a loser, in the exchange of love.

I like it because this paper needle case was hers to give freely. It wasn't coerced out of her by a prince and it didn't require an allowance from a man to finance it.

You can view it at the Jane Austen Museum in Hampshire. I visited recently with my aunt-in-law who lives in the area and loved it. You can see the topaz crosses on display there too.

Jane Austen House Museum
GU34 1SD
01420 83262