The books conservation department at West Dean College has been commissioned to work on a rare piece of handwritten text by Jane Austen.
The text was pasted into a First Edition of The Memoirs of Jane Austen (1870) a book written by Jane’s nephew, James Edward Austen Leigh. The scrap of text is attached to a letter, dated 1870, from Austen Leigh to a friend in the clergy, the owner, it is believed, of the book. Students on the West Dean conservation books and library materials programme will support David Dorning, the programme leader in the project.
The scrap of paper contains part of a sermon on men and prayer copied in Jane Austen’s own hand in 1814. It is a subject Jane discussed in her novel Mansfield Park published in the same year. Jane Austen often assisted her brother The Revd. James Austen in copying his sermons.
A spokeswoman for West Dean College said: “A shadow of further handwriting can be seen on the reverse of the scrap of paper and conservators at West Dean will work on releasing and cleaning the glued paper to reveal the text on both sides.”
Conservation work will also be carried out to the hardback book to repair extensive damage to the spine. The book, containing the letter and scrap of text, was recently purchased by Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton, with the aid of funding from the Jane Austen Society.
It will feature in an exhibition at Jane Austen’s House Museum later this year to celebrate the bicentenary of Mansfield Park.