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Sotheby's Sale of English Literature, History, Children's Book & Illustrations to offer Jane Austen treasures
A Letter from Jane to her sister Cassandra, dated 8-9 November 1800, estimate £40,000-60,000. Photo: Sotheby's,


LONDON.- Cup-and-Ball, or bilbocatch (from the French bilboquet) was a popular domestic game at which Jane Austen excelled. "Jane Austen was successful in everything that she attempted with her fingers. None of us could throw spilikins in so perfect a circle, or take them off with so steady a hand. Her performances with cup and ball were marvellous. The one used at Chawton was an easy one, and she has been known to catch it on the point above an hundred times in succession, till her hand was weary." (James Edward Austen-Leigh, A Memoir of Jane Austen (1871), pp.97-98)

This Cup-and-Ball game has always been associated with the author including on the rare occasions when it has been publicly exhibited. The house in Chawton in which Jane lived with Cassandra and their mother was part of the estate inherited by Jane's brother. Following Jane’s death in 1817, the game remained at Chawton House and has been passed down through the family ever since.

Jane gives a good indication of the game's part of daily routine in a letter to Cassandra of 29 October 1809: "We do not want amusement: bilbocatch, at which George is indefatigable; spillikins, paper ships, riddles, conundrums, and cards, with watching the flow and ebb of the river, and now and then a stroll out, keep us well employed; and we mean to avail ourselves of our kind papa’s consideration, by not returning to Winchester till quite the evening of Wednesday."

A Letter from Jane to her sister Cassandra, dated 8-9 November 1800, estimate £40,000-60,000.
Written at the age of 25 from Steventon Rectory, the only family home she had ever known, Austen writes of a deeply familiar world with a fondness marked, of course, by ironic wit.

This vividly descriptive letter of Jane Austen's daily life is one of a series of letters written by Jane to her sister when Cassandra was absent from home from October 1800 through to February 1801, visiting their brother Edward at Godmersham Park House, Kent. The eleven letters that survive are probably only a fragment of those Jane wrote to Cassandra during these five months.

Neighbourhood and family gossip act as a window on the world at war - the son of the local squire who was injured whilst garrisoning an island off the Normandy coast; her brother's naval exploits in the eastern Mediterranean - but her focus is on the local and domestic. She gives a wonderfully detailed and precise account of the purchase of new tables for the rectory, whilst the event she describes in the most dramatic terms is a storm that has blown down trees in the rectory garden.

Many of those named in the letter were longstanding friends and part of the same small community, whose lives had been deeply connected with the Austens over many years.However the most significant reference is Jane's brief comment that "Harris seems still in a poor way, from his bad habit of body; his hand bled again a little the other day, & Dr Littlehales has been with him lately". This is the most extensive comment found in any of Austen's extant letters about Harris Bigg-Wither, whose proposal of marriage Austen accepted, then rejected, some two years after this letter was written. Bigg-Wither was the heir to a considerable estate a few miles from Steventon and his sisters were close friends of Jane and Cassandra - it would have been, in practical terms, a highly suitable match and Jane's rejection of the proposal has always been seen as a key moment in her life.

Autograph manuscript continuation of Sanditon, Austen’s unfinished final work. Estimate £20,000-30,000.
A continuation of Austen's final work, Sanditon, by one of her closest relations, Anna Lefroy (1793-1872), the daughter of Jane's eldest brother the Rev. James Austen.

Anna Lefroy's continuation of Sanditon is not just a literary manuscript inspired by Austen and written within her intimate familial circle; it also stands at the head of a distinct literary sub-genre of Austen sequels. The impulse to continue her stories surely stems from the extraordinary depth and subtlety of characterisation that is one of the foremost qualities of Austen's art. The author herself appears to have talked of her creations almost as living people, entertaining her family with stories of their lives beyond the novels that contained them. Many readers have felt a similar intimacy with Austen's characters, and had the same desire to continue their stories. Austen sequels have since proliferated into well over fifty titles including P.D. James's Death Comes to Pemberley (2011).

Jane knew Anna Lefroy well in early childhood: when Anna's mother died in 1795, her father sent her to live with his parents, Jane and Cassandra in Steventon. The relationship deepened when Anna grew up to have literary ambitions and Jane wrote encouraging and enthusiastic letters about Anna's unpublished novel, Which Is The Heroine?, which provide an invaluable insight into Austen's method of novel-writing. These literary conversations continued until Jane's final months.

As the "literary niece", Anna inherited both Sanditon and the cancelled chapters of Persuasion when Jane Austen's manuscripts were divided amongst family members on the death of Cassandra in 1845. Her continuation of Austen's last, unfinished, novel was an act of homage to her aunt. The additional characters, if not plot developments, that are found in Anna's continuation derive from conversations she had with Jane before she died, in 1817. Anna's attempt to complete the story ultimately proved too much and she abandoned the work before it was completed. She later reflected on how her own work compared to her aunt's: "There seems to me just the same difference as between real Lace, & Imitation."

The manuscript will be offered for sale with two pieces of Anna Lefroy’s writing, in which she recounts her memories of her aunt: “Aunt Jane was the general favorite with children - as well she might be - her manners were so playful, & her long circumstantial stories, continued from time to time & invented for the occasion were so delightful ... her earliest Novels, certainly P. & P were read aloud in the Parsonage at Dean when I was in the room - & not expected to listen ... I did listen with all my might, was so much interested & talked so much afterwards about Jane & Elizabeth that it was resolved for prudence sake to read no more of the story aloud in my hearing..."






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