From the Daily Times: Five new Jane Austen letters surfaced when an antique seller purchased an old trunk filled with early Victorian clothing at an estate sale in Basingstoke. Hoping that some of the clothing items would still be salable, Justine de Villiers, shop owner and art appraiser, purchased the lot for £25. Ms. de Villiers found the letters neatly folded inside a journal and tucked between a chemisette and a pair of lace gloves. While the clothes were in deplorable condition, the letters, which had been hidden from light, were in excellent shape. Ms. de Villiers, also an art appraiser and an avid reader of Jane Austen’s novels, instantly recognized the handwriting. “My hands and voice were shaking when I rang up the curator at the British Museum,” she said. “There are so few of Jane Austen’s letters that survived, and none between 1801 and 1804. It was thought that Cassandra destroyed them all. These five letters were written by Jane over a five week period to an acquaintance or a friend, we cannot tell, for the name, Mary Salton, is not one that we associate with Jane.”
Ernestine Meadows, the young woman who inadvertently sold the letters, is thrilled “to be a part of history. I have no idea where the trunk came from or how it got to my mother’s attic. My mother recently died, and it was up to me to sell her belongings. She inherited the house fully furnished from a bachelor uncle, and much of its contents go back to the early 19th century. I thought the trunk was filled with old clothes and shawls and such, and sold them as one lot.” When asked what she would have done if she found the letters before the sale, Ernestine answered truthfully, “There was so much to do to prepare my mother’s house for the estate sale, that I never bothered to inspect the trunk closely. Had I found the letters, I probably would never have made the connection and simply tossed them out. ”
Jane Austen fans can be grateful for Ernestine’s oversight. When asked what she would do with the letters if they are authenticated by experts, Ms. de Villiers said, “I would like to keep them, but realistically I will probably have to sell them.”
Update: Inquiring readers – yes, this was an April Fool’s post. Comments indicated how much Janeites wish this post were true. We want to know more about Jane. So few of her letters remain, so little of her life is known, even the images made of her are few and far between. And we wish she had lived longer so that she could have written more novels. It is my dream that someday, somewhere, someone will unearth a cache of Jane’s letters. It would have been lovely, wouldn’t it, if this post had been true.