Spare Change, Anyone?


Sotheby’s made the announcement a few days ago that one of Jane Austen’s original manuscripts is coming up for sale in mid July. It’s of The Watsons, consisting of 68 heavily corrected pages. It’s the largest existing original manuscript of any of her novels. The only other one that survived is two canceled chapters of Persuasion in the British Library.

It’s not even the whole thing. The first twelve pages were sold by a descendant to raise money for the Red Cross in World War I and are now in possession of the Pierpont Morgan Library, NY. The next few pages were somehow lost while being “looked after” by the University of London. So the remaining pages are being sold by the anonymous person who bought them in 1988 from the British Rail Pension fund, which obviously went in for some odd investments. The Fund should have hung onto them because they probably didn’t count on at least one of the retirees making it to 100 (my dad, still hanging in there).

The pages are quite small; Austen apparently liked to cut sheets of paper in half and fold them into an 8-page booklet.

So if you have about $485,000 burning a hole in your pocket in mid July, you might win the auction.

I really hope a museum wins The Watsons. I hate the idea of coming upon this tantalizing news item and knowing there’s a possibility no one will ever see it again; it makes my Jacobin blood boil. And I wonder how the person who, uh, borrowed those missing pages feels. Does he or she take them out for special occasions and admire them? Share them with a few friends bound to secrecy?

If you owned something as precious as this, what would you do with it? Hand it over to a museum on permanent loan and go and visit occasionally?

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