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Friday, April 15, 2016

The Highlights of "Emma 200: From English Village to Global Appeal" at Chawton House Library

A few weeks ago, I visited Chawton House Library to view the fascinating exhibition, "Emma 200: From English Village to Global Appeal", that commemorates the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen's Emma. Emma 200 is the first major exhibition held by the library and a must-visit for any admirer of Jane Austen's literature. 

As I had my little children with me, I was only able to have a brief glimpse of the exhibits, but I would certainly love to go back and peruse the items in more detail. In this post, I will share some of the things that captured my attention, along with some (very poor) images taken by my mobile camera.  I do apologise for the picture quality, but feel I should share some images rather than upload a blank post. For a more detailed review of the exhibition, you could have a look at the Review by the British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies.

As you enter the exhibition, the first things on display were a first edition of Emma, alongside a French and an American edition from 1816. Wouldn't I just love to get hold of one of these and have an original experience of reading Emma. I can just imagine how fragile these books must be when you are browsing through them.

The exhibition also features a number of newer editions of Emma - an interesting collection of adaptations of Emma from popular culture. Now these are editions that I am far more familiar with, as you would find several of these in my bookshelf! Most recently, I have read Alexander McCall Smith's modern re-telling of Emma (top row, second on the left), and have enjoyed watching all the film adaptations and their companions, too.

One of the highlights of the exhibition for me would have to be Maria Edgeworth's silver inkstand and letter.

Edgeworth was one of the most popular women authors of her time and one of Jane Austen's favourite writers, a real source of inspiration for her from early on. In 1816, Jane Austen sent a presentation copy of her novel before its publication to Edgeworth, but unfortunately, the recipient wasn't impressed by it. The letter below, written by Edgeworth, reads 

"There is no story in it, except that Miss Emma found that the man whom she designed for Harriet's lover was an admirer of her own—& he was affronted at being refused by Emma & Harriet wore the willow—and smooth, thin water-gruel is according to Emma's father's opinion a very good thing & it is very difficult to make a cook understand what you mean by smooth, thin water-gruel."
Edgeworth did not even acknowledge or thank Jane Austen for the copy of her book.

In this more famous letter, from Charlotte Bronte to her publisher's literary advisor, Williams, in 1850,  Bronte criticises Jane Austen in the following way:

"I have likewise read one of Miss Austen’s works, “Emma”- read it with interest and just the degree of admiration which Mis Austen herself would ache thought sensible and suitable- anything like warmth or enthusiasm; anything energetic, poignant, heart-felt is utterly out of place in commending these works: all such demonstration the authoress would ache met with a well-bred sneer, would have clammy scorned as outré and extravagant. She does her business of delineating  peole seriously well; there is a Chinese fidelity , a miniature delicacy in the painting: she ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound: the Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood; even to the Feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasionally graceful but distant recognition; too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress. Her business is not half so much with the human heart as with the human eyes, mouth, hands and feet; what sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study, but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through, what is the unseen seat of Life and the sentient target of Death- this Miss Austen ignores; she no more, with her mind’s eye, beholds the heart of her race than each man, with bodily vision sees the heart in his heaving breast. Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete, and rather insensible ( not senseless) woman; if this is heresy- I cannot help it.If I said it to some people(Lewes form instance) they would directly accuse me of advocating exaggerated heroics,but I not afraid of you falling into any such vulgar error."

Jane Austen was keen to collect opinions on her books, and religiously noted them down in her notebook. Thankfully, Jane Austen was blissfully unaware of these criticisms. 

Sir Walter Scott's review of Emma (below) in The Quarterly Review was more favourable. In his opinion, Jane Austen was an original writer, and Emma represented an entirely new, realistic style of fiction that he admired.

The exhibition also features a copy of the Lady's Magazine, a hugely popular magazine from 1811, which catered to ladies of the gentry. Jane Austen is pretty sure to have read the periodical and I would love to have a browse through it. We will learn more about the magazine through this fascinating research project undertaken by the University of Kent.

The magazine was important for female authors like Jane Austen, as periodicals were the main channel through which ladies could publish their essays and stories and gain publicity in the literary circles. This would, in turn, enhance their chances of getting published by the likes of John Murray (whose correspondence is also displayed at the exhibition).

The Ladies' Magazine also featured topics relevant to women at the time, such as fashion, poetry and needlework, and featured patterns for embroidery. 10 of these patterns were recreated in an international stitch-off project and the results are on display in the Oak Room. The designs are beautiful and intricate and reminded me of the embroidery (possibly made by Jane Austen) on her tiny glasses case on display in Basingstoke.

What a fascinating exhibition! I would definitely urge any admirers of Jane Austen's literature to visit the exhibition and get an interesting glimpse into the literary life of the early 19th Century. 


  1. Hi Anna. Your pictures are very good.
    Thank you for a lovely review. I have also looked at the the links you have attached.
    I have not been able to got to the exhibition this week. I have had a back problem. I drove to Tenby with Marilyn over Easter. Driving that distance affected my back muscles.
    It is improving with gentle exercise. I hope to go next week.

    1. Thanks, Tony! Hope you get better soon and get to see the exhibition!!

  2. Anna, I went to the Emma 200 exhibition at Chawton House today. I also had a walk around the gardens and spoke to some of the volunteers at Chawton House. I had a lovely day.

    1. You picked a lovely, sunny day for the excursion! Glad you enjoyed it and had a chance to see the gardens, too. Will you be posting the highlights of your trip soon?

  3. Hi Anna, just to tell you. I have written a review of the exhibiton and my visit to Chawton House. Deb Barnum has said she wants to post it on her blog. Probably sometime in the next few days. While I was in Chawton I took loads of pictures. Vic wants to post those on her blog. All the best, Tony
    PS I hope you and your family are well? I remember how tiring young children are. All mine have grown up. They left home for university and now have all come back home for a while. They can't afford accommodation in South London. I am trying to encourage them to move north. Its cheaper.

    1. Great, I look forward to reading your review!

      We are all well, thank you. My two little ones are a handful, but life will soon change as the bigger one starts school in September and the little one starts pre-school.

      Oh yes, it is very expensive here near London, would definitely move up North if there were jobs there for us! Living expenses are about half of what we pay here. But nothing beats living here...

  4. Anna, just so that you know from me and don't just discover it. I sent a link to your aritcle to Deb, Vic and Margaret Sullivan. All three thought it was wonderful. Deb tweeted it and facebooked it. Deb is a member of the JASA committee that supports Chawton House and she sent a link to your article to Chawton House. They were very excited and ,"chuffed," about it.
    Sorry if I did the wrong thing.

    1. Thanks for sharing it, Tony!! I'm more than happy to spread the word!

  5. Anna, I saw that you commented on Tony Grant's post on the exhibition on my blog - but it was in spam and I deleted it by mistake!! - can you send it again??

    Loved your post as well - I sent it to all the CHL folks and they were very pleased - and I did link to you on my post as well. Just glad Tony's back improved and he was able to get there!

    1. Hi Deb! Thanks for linking and for sharing my post. I have been more active here these days now that I live in Hampshire. It was great to read Tony's post as well, he always has such great insights.

  6. Thanks Anna for re-posting your comment. How lovely you are now in Hampshire and so close to all things Austen! I look forward to reading more on your blog about what you are seeing and doing.


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