Friday, 30 July 2010

Jane Austen, Slavery and Chawton House

A few weeks ago Ann and I had a few days break in Alton in Hampshire. We visited Jane Austen's House Museum. It is one of the nicest Museums we have been to. Run by a private trust its staff and volunteers are enthusiastic. It has benefited from a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to improve the building and add an educational facility. The garden is beautiful. On display was a special exhibition of contemporary art works 'Under the Influence' inspired by the Museum and Jane Austen's life created by artists from Farnham University of Creative Arts. Polly Heatley's porcelain dinner service inspired by Wedgwood items at the Museum are stunningly original and beautiful creating dinner service items representing the paper Austen wrote her letters on with imprints of some of Austen's words on it. Powerful are the three items by Stephanie Hunter inspired by the Fanny Price quote in Mansfield Park 'There was a deathly silence'. Hunter's platters 'create a tension of formal elegance against the unpalatable imagery of social injustice, which encourages us to see Austen in a more political, and contemporary light.' A bone china dinner plate 'depicts 'slave ship swims'; a china side plate 'To be sold'.

Austen and her family lived in Chawton because her brother Eward had been adopted and inherited the estate owned by distant cousins who were childless. However, part of that wealth was in slave ownership. Nearby is the former Chawton Manor House where James lived. It now houses the Library of Early Women's Writing 1660-1830. This started off as the collection of the American philanthropist Sandy Lerner, who runs Cisco Systems with her husband. She leases the house, funded its renovation and shipped her collection including paintings to create the Library which opened in 2003. It is run by a private trust. It is becoming better known as a unique research facility.

On 21 September it will be the venue for the 'Rethinking the Fall of the Planter Class' Conference organised by Dr Christopher Petley at the University of Southampton. Speakers include Nick Draper of the Legacies of British Slavery. Topics include the rise of the planter class in Jamaica, 16601-763; the Jamaican sugar industry 1760-1830; the London Society of West India Planters and Merchants after abolition 1807-1834; planters and politics, and their cultural lives. Full details from Dr Christopher Petley:
Leaving aside the issue of overnight accommodation on 20 and 21 the Conference costs £50/£35, with an optional there course dinner as an extra.

For further details of:
Jane Austen's House Museum:
Chawton House:

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