"A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of."
– Mansfield Park Jane Austen, 1814
Recently we posted about an important auction of first editions by Jane Austen, all the more remarkable (and apparently collectible) for being still fresh from the bookseller, with pages uncut and in drab boards. That sale took place at Sotheby's last Friday, and thanks to reader Michael Robinson, we can now report that the three humble volumes sold for 139,250 GBP (that's $221,380): surely an excellent "recipe for happiness" for the seller.
If you were so unfortunate as to have missed this auction, take heart: there's another coming up, again at Sotheby's, and on the anniversary of Jane Austen's birth (16 December). Included in the sale will be not only a copy of Emma that was originally presented to Maria Edgeworth, but also the set of Wedgewood china, right, purchased by Jane's brother Edward Knight and his daughter Fanny.
Jane herself was along for this shopping junket, and described the new china in a letter to Cassandra Austen, dated 16 September 1813: "We then went to Wedgewoods where my brother and Fanny chose a Dinner Set; I believe the pattern is a small Lozenge in purple, between Lines of narrow Gold; - and it is to have the Crest." (For more about Jane and Wedgewood, see this excellent post by Julie Wakefield on one of our favorite Jane Austen blogs, austenonly.) Perhaps Santa might bid for you?
Of course as grand as such sales may be, they pale in comparison to all the movies, spin-off books, action figures, and who-knows-what-else that has helped make Jane Austen into one of the biggest marketing "brands" in the world today, generating millions of dollars in income for lots of people who are not named Austen. To the country spinster whose entire writing income during her short life is generally estimated to have been around £700, this would likely have been incomprehensible – and more than a little unfair.
But a recent book does quite a good job in explaining the phenomenon. Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World by Claire Harman is a fascinating and readable exploration of Jane-mania, in all its curious
manifestations, and a study of why her books continue to hold such favor with readers. But Ms. Harman also examines the "dark side" of such fame: how Austen's name now bears "such a weight of signification as to mean almost nothing at all....To many people, Pride and Prejudice, and even 'Jane Austen', simply evoke the actor Colin Firth in a wet shirt."
Well, not to us, and probably not to you reading this blog, either. But Jane's Fame is well worth a glance or two, if only to make you think again about why you love the originals.
(I obtained and read this book the old-fashioned way - from a bookstore - so no disclaimers are necessary.)
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.