Inquiring readers, dear friend Tony Grant (London Calling) has written an article to help jump start my re-entry into blogging. I love this post, for I am a huge Kelly Clarkson fan, and I was happily astounded to learn that she was a Janeite. Who knew that the simple girl from Texas with the huge voice would make it so big in the music industry that one day she would outbid a host of collectors for Jane Austen’s cabochon blue stone ring? Since her winning bid, the ring has lived in limbo, as Tony’s tale will recount, but now it is safely in British hands again, thanks to a committed group of people.
Kelly’s other association with Jane Austen is peripheral. She sang a song for the hit movie, Love Actually, in which a number of actors who starred in Jane Austen films appeared: Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman. I have placed the YouTube video at the bottom of this post. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy Tony’s tale.
It is possible that you might have heard about a certain ring that hit the headlines worldwide recently.
American singer Kelly Clarkson, a 31 year old singer from Fort Worth Texas, bought a small gold ring with a smooth turquoise stone set in it at Sotheby’s Auction for around £150, 000. The news hit the headlines because this ring had been the property of Jane Austen. British government officials, the Jane Austen Society and readers of Jane Austen across the known world were aghast.
A number of issues came to the fore. First, a ring, which is of British national importance, because of its provenance, was about to be taken out of Britain; secondly it was going to a pop star, who although she professed her love of Jane Austen, was really just buying it, because she could. A holding order was placed on the ring by the British Government preventing it leaving the country. A few months were given for a British buyer to raise the funds to purchase it back from Miss Clarkson.
Chawton Cottage , the home of Jane Austen for the last eight years of her life, came forward to raise the necessary money. An anonymous benefactor provided most of the funds required within a short space of time and petitions and activity, amongst American, Australian and British Janeites secured the rest. Susannah Fullerton took the lead in Australia and Maggie Sullivan sent out a rallying call in America and Chawton House made clear their aim over here. Janeites from around the world contributed money on the site set up by Chawton Cottage and Kelly Clarkson graciously sold it to Chawton Cottage. The ring will now have associations to Jane Austen, as well as to Miss Clarkson. The whole of the Jane Austen community will feel that they have a part of it because of their contributions. It will truly become a ring owned and loved by all. It has now gained another dramatic layer of history and meaning.
The ring will be on display at Chawton Cottage alongside other pieces of Jewellery, the topaz crosses brought back from a voyage by the Austen’s younger brother, Charles and also a beaded bracelet, also owned by Jane, for all visitors to see.
The Arts Council’s reviewing committee secretary states,
The expert adviser had provided a written submission stating that the gold ring (width 17.5 mm; height 8 mm) set with a turquoise was probably made in the eighteenth century, possibly about 1760-80. In excellent condition, the ring sat in a later nineteenth-century case bearing the name of T. West, Goldsmith of Ludgate Street, London and was accompanied by papers documenting the history of the ring within the family of Jane Austen.”
The gold circle of the ring is 9 carat gold which is rather low in pure gold content and so denotes the ring as being an ordinary piece. The highest carat possible is 23 carat, which is almost 100% gold. It has been assessed because of its design and construction as being made between 1760 and 1780. The ends of the hoop of the ring curve round underneath the bezel. Taken with the thin hoop and simple oval bezel this suggest its date. Jane was born in 1775 so it is evident that the ring was not made for her originally. The provenance of the ring is based solely on letters and documents within the Austen family and only go back to Jane‘s ownership. After her death it went to Cassandra and then passed down through the family. Could it possibly have got to Jane in the same way? A relative dying and passing it on to Jane as a keepsake. It is something that Jane obviously wanted to keep. It’s simplicity and effectiveness would have appealed to her. On her finger it would have had a lustre under candlelight. It would have been something that other people would have noticed at any gathering such as a ball or family event such as Christmas.
Gold itself was not an easy commodity to come by between 1760 and 1780. The American war of Independence which waged between 1775 and 1783 made Gold a rare commodity. It was a vital constituent of the wealth of the nation. Britain had to pay for the War. Much gold came to Britain from Brazil in the 18th century, but because of the European war against France and the War against the colonies in North America getting gold here from South America was not an easy business. Transport ships could be captured or sunk. It pushed the price of gold up. Even 9 carat gold must have been expensive and hard to come by at the time. There were some gold mines in Britain , at Dollgethlau in Wales, in the low border hills of Scotland and in Cornwall at the Treore mine near Wadebridge, the Carlson veins at Hopes Nose Mine and within the copper veins of Bampfylde, North Molton. The Romans first discovered gold in Wales so there is a long history of gold mining in Britain. It would be good to imagine that the gold in Jane’s ring came from one of the mines in Cornwall. She loved the West Country and had family holidays in Lyme, Sidmouth and Colyton.
There is a turquoise gem set in the ring. Turquoise is meant to be a bringer of good luck. It has been found in the tombs and on the artifacts of many Egyptian Pharaohs and important people. It can change colour under certain circumstances. Turquoise is found all over the world. It is associated with copper mining and indeed Cornwall, where copper has been mined it is also associated with turquoise. Because of the geopolitical state of the world in the 1770’s onward, Cornwall, like the gold in Jane’s ring, is the most likely source of the turquoise. It has also been suggested that the turquoise stone in Jane’s ring might be a special variant called Ondontolite. Ondontolite is also called bone or fossil turquoise. It is a gem formed by the infiltration of surrounding minerals into fossil bones. This would fit with the turquoise stone in Jane’s ring because, Dorset and the West Country have rich fossil deposits.
Jane’s ring is therefore connected to wars, national financial need, geology, the mining industry and mining communities and the lives of their inhabitants, which were being developed exponentially with the coming of the Industrial Revolution, social status, personal attractiveness, social occasions and mystical meaning. A designer designed it and a craftsman made it and a shopkeeper sold it. It is one symbol of economic and social endeavour within an historical context.
In the novels rings and jewellery have their importance and meaning. In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia describes how her carriage overtakes the curricle of William Goulding and she lowers the window and lets her ring be seen. Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey looks forward to the day that friends and neighbours will envy her her, “exhibition of hoop rings on her fingers.” These two examples are of characters who show vanity and self-importance but in Mansfield Park, Fanny Price, who receives the present of a small cross from her brother William, is at pains to find just the right simple chain to wear it with and show off her brothers generosity. William cannot afford the chain to go with the cross and Edmund eventually comes to Fanny’s rescue with just the right sort of simple chain for her to wear. The jewellery in the novels seem to portray elements of character. They show Jane Austen’s understanding of the use of jewellery. This adds to the importance of the turquoise ring that Chawton Cottage have managed to now acquire.
In the Arts Council assessment of the ring, in the part where they describe the provenance of the ring, they describe documentary evidence for it belonging to Jane and various members of her family through the generations. The report sets out the ownership of the ring after Jane’s death. The other point to be made is the report in the news that the ring is, ” a never seen before ring owned by the novelist Jane Austen.”
The family for generations have kept the ring to themselves. Jane is one of the most pored over, read about and speculated upon authors in history. The family appeared to want to keep something of her just to themselves, their own private bit of her.
One member of the family in each generation was given guardianship over the ring. So what was special about the keepers of the ring? After Jane’s death Cassandra owned it. She passed it on to her sister in law Eleanor Austen, the second wife of Henry Austen, “as soon as she knew I was engaged to your uncle.” Henry had been Jane’s favourite brother and it was he, whilst a banker living in London, who had arranged for her novels to be published. Eleanor passed it on to Caroline Mary Craven Austen, the daughter of Jane’s brother James. Caroline Austen passed it on to her niece Mary Austen Leigh who passed it on in turn to her niece Mary Dorothy Austen Leigh. Mary Dorothy Austen Leigh then passed it on to her sister Winifred Jenkyns in 1962. Apart from the obvious observation that the ring passed along the female line what else can we deduce? The ring was adapted for the use of somebody with a smaller finger than the original owner. A bar of gold, called a stretcher, has been fitted at a later date, probably by the company T West Goldsmiths of Ludgate Hill which is named on the inside of the box holding the ring. It seems that the ring was worn and not just kept as a memento. This might suggest things about the owner in each generation. A memorial ring, which this is, especially after Jane’s death and passed on through the family, commemorates Jane through generations. The wearer and owner could almost be seen as a surrogate Jane to the family in each generation. It is unlike a memento, such as a piece of furniture or a vase, which is set at a distance from people to be viewed. This ring has a different connection. It was worn on occasions. One wonders what occasions the Austen ancestor in each generation would wear it? When you wear an item belonging to somebody you take on aspects of that person. It’s not just the touching of the object which makes a connection with that person and the past but it is also the using it as they would have used it. They almost, in a way, become that person. A little like an actor wearing a costume,however in a case like this, wearing Jane’s ring would have been much more personal and evocative than merely playing a part.
Neil MacGregor, the director of The British Museum, wrote and published “A History of The World in 1000 Objects,” in 2010 and broadcast his readings of the book on BBC radio 4. In his description of the first of his 100 objects, the Mummy of Hornedjitef (circa 240BC), an object taken out of chronological order in MacGregors 100 objects, he uses it as an illustration of how knowledge develops. The interpretation of the mummy has changed as more research has been possible. The Mummy is a vivid example of the work of the academic. Neil MacGregor states that the work of an Archaeologist or Historian is to gather the evidence and make the best of the evidence they can. This changes over time as more evidence emerges but the archaeologist can only do his best with what he has. MacGregor gives Durers portrait of a rhinoceros, drawn in 1515, as an example. Durer had never seen a rhinoceros. He drew his portrait from first hand witness accounts. He did his best with what evidence he had. The drawing is completely wrong. I have used the evidence I have got for Jane’s ring and gathered other evidence to answer questions as they occurred, from various sources but I, like Durer, don’t really know.
Clarkson, had almost the last word. This was her reaction to Chawton Cottage buying the ring from her,
“The ring is a beautiful national treasure and I am happy to know that so many Jane Austen fans will get to see it at Jane Austen’s House Museum.”
Chawton actually had the last word. They hoped for a long and fruitful relationship with Kelly and hoped she would visit the ring at the cottage.
Everybody appears to be friends!!!
Here’s Kelly’s song in Love Actually, The Trouble With Love Is, with scenes from the film