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Latest News

This page highlights forthcoming activities or events indirectly related to the Jane Austen Society during the course of the year, together with information on any issues or events not included on other pages of the website.

The links below direct you either to relevant content elsewhere on the website, or to a separate page providing further information.

Tribute to Deirdre le Faye

The Jane Austen Society announces with much regret the death of Deirdre le Faye, Vice-President of the Society. The Chairman of the Society, Professor Richard Jenkins, has written a tribute to her which may be displayed via the Obituary link on the left of the screen.

New Jane Austen 'Essay Prize'

This competition is inaugurated to promote scholarship on Jane Austen among postgraduate and early career researchers at universities in the United Kingdom, supported by donations to the Society's Jane Austen 250 Fund.

For details of rules and prizes, and the entry form, select the 'Essay Prize' tab on the left of the screen.

Special On-line AGM : Saturday 11 July

Our normal AGM has been cancelled this year as a consequence of the Coronavirus situation. However, a very interesting alternative on-line event has been arranged by Chawton House, to celebrate the Society's 80th birthday, its legacy, and the great author herself.

The programme begins with a combination of reports from the Society, Chawton House and the Chawton House Museum followed by a virtual tour of Chawton House. The event then continues with a series of lectures and discussions via international website links.

To see the programme for the afternoon, select the above link to display the initial page containing the full list of lectures during the course of the afternoon. To see and hear any of the lectures, simply select the relevant 'Watch Now' link next to the summary of each lecture.

The recordings will remain available on-line after the event, so can be accessed at any time via the above link.

80th Birthday Celebrations of the Society

On 29 May 1940, a meeting was held in Alton, Hampshire, attended by Mr and Mrs Curtis (whose forebears had set up the Curtis Museum in Alton); Elizabeth, Beatrix and Dorothy Darnell; Elizabeth Jenkins (whose biography of Jane Austen had been published in 1938); and Dr Marjorie Sanders, to form a Society to preserve Jane Austen's House in Chawton, to be known as The Jane Austen Society. This Committee resolved that, 'owing to the present circumstance of War Conditions' the membership subscription should be set at 2 shillings and 6 pence (2/6d pre-decimalisation currency) or 5 for Life Members.

Preservation of the House meant purchasing it, but not much could be done during the war years. However, in December 1947, an appeal for funds was placed in the Times to meet the purchase price of 3000. This only raised 558 from the general public, (including over 100 from the USA as a result of a 'Boston Tea Party' held by a Mrs Koch), but a Mr T E Carpenter purchased the House outright in his name, the purchase being completed in 1948. He subsequently received a letter from King George VI expressing his pleasure at the purchase. The House, being in private ownership, had to be placed in a separate Trust run by Society Committee members, its duties being to manage the House and garden, secure alternative accommodation for the three individual tenants and to undertake the necessary substantial renovations and remodelling.

Although still tenanted, the House was formally opened to the public on 23 July 1949 by the Society's President, the Duke of Wellington. The Society's first Annual General Meeting followed on 8 July 1950; the proceedings recorded in its formal Report of activities for the period ending December 1950. Annual Reports have since been published continuously from 1951 and AGMs have been held every July; for the last 25 years or more they have been held in a large marquee on the lawn of Chawton House Library, former home of Jane Austen's 3rd brother, Edward. There have been many illustrious speakers - some may not be remembered today - but more modern ones include Howard Jacobsen, Joanna Trollope and P D James, among a host of important academics, authors and diplomats.

In May 1950, the Society produced its first Constitution as a charitable organisation, which allowed it to apply for grants from philanthropic funds, to apply for income tax relief, and, latterly, Government financial aid on donations/subscriptions (Gift Aid). Since then, regulations governing management of charities has expanded and been enshrined in several guidance documents, all overseen by the Charity Commission, and the Society is now on its third Constitution.

The Society is proud to have always had Austen family descendants either serving as Committee members (two are current Vice-Presidents) or providing other material support. Other Trustees have been drawn from all walks of life, including academics and authors of Austen's life such as Maggie Lane and David Selwyn. But there have been three who have contributed most to the canon of Jane Austen.

Dr R W Chapman (d.1960) was inspired by his wife's enthusiasm for Jane Austen to publish, in 1923, a collected edition of five of Austen's novels and, in 1932, an update of Lord Brabourne's 1884 publication of Austen's letters. For the Society he also purchased several of Austen's letters at auction.

Following on are two major figures who have done the most in original research to bring Jane Austen from relative obscurity and to have entirely altered the landscape of Austen studies.

Brian Southam (d.2010) was a pioneer in literary criticism whose research allowed him to enlarge and amend Chapman's earlier Austen studies. He uncovered Austen's early manuscripts and, in 1964, was the first to publish a study of the manuscripts and her development as a writer. He published student notes in 2007.

Deirdre Le Faye has spent a lifetime in researching Austen's life and family. Her Family Record (1998), Chronology of Jane Austen (2006) and annotated edition of Jane Austen's Letters (1995) have all been updated and are still the most authoritative record.

By 1955, expanding administrative and financial management duties dictated that the House should be managed by a set of Trustees, separate from the Society. The Jane Austen Society then continued to run solely as a literary charitable organisation. Since then it has published biannual Newsletters, and booklets of various memoirs and aspects of Austen's life; set up an archive and fundraising programmes, and a website for information and enquiries; opened regional branches; instituted free talks to recognised community groups and educational organisations; and continued to work closely with the House supporting its activities or acquisitions.

Over the years, the Jane Austen Society continued to collect Austen artefacts and lend them to Jane Austen's House for display. The House has recently acquired accredited Museum status and to celebrate that, and both that organisation's 70th birthday and The Jane Austen Society's 80th birthday, the Society has transferred its ownership of all of those artefacts to the House in perpetuity under Deed of Gift. A full-length portrait of Edward Austen remains on loan and on display in Chawton House Library.

The Jane Austen Society Annual Reports Online

We are proud to announce a new feature of the website: a portal to online copies of the Society's journal, from 1949 to 2018. As members who receive printed copies each year know, the soberly-titled Reports contain not only news about the Society and its activities, but also a wealth of articles about every aspect of Jane Austen's family history and writing career, as well as transcriptions of addresses to the Annual General Meetings by such luminaries as Elizabeth Jenkins, Elizabeth Bowen, Brian Southam, Margaret Drabble, Marilyn Butler and Deirdre Le Faye. This new resource will make this valuable resource freely accessible to a much wider audience.

The Jane Austen Society Internet Archive is hosted by Digital Scholarship at the University of Southampton. Thank you to Eleanora Gandolfi and the team at Hartley Library, University of Southampton, to Judith at Sarsen Press, and to Jane Austen Trustees Emma Clery, Mary Hogg, and David Richardson for contributing to this project to mark the 80th anniversary of the Society.

Sydney Gardens Restoration

Bath and Northeast Somerset Council has acquired a National Lottery grant of 2.7 million to fund a major restoration of Sydney Gardens in Bath. The project to preserve and develop the UK's sole surviving Georgian pleasure garden will begin in 2020. The Council's plan includes restoring the Loggia and Minerva's Temple, replanting flower beds and providing an outdoor cafe.