As further evidence that I still have much to learn, I only found out today through a kind and informative Twitter comment that none of the original manuscripts of Jane Austen’s six novels survived. We have just two alternative Persuasion chapters written in her own hand.
The knowledge cast a shadow on my weekend, knowing we will never see such a literary treasure.
In my ignorance, I had always imagined that at least one manuscript might be found carefully stored in the archives of an austere library in England, brought out every five years for display in a darkened room for us to walk past in silent pilgrimage.
(Jane Austen’s writing desk at Jane Austen’s House in Chawton)
Here in Vienna, Albrecht Dürer’s Young Hare watercolour from 1502 enjoys such a fate, for example. Too delicate for permanent display, it makes only rare appearances like a celebrity carefully guarding their other-worldly image.
Fortunately, we do have Jane Austen’s other writings, such as letters and drafts of unpublished or unfinished works. I was lucky enough to see a page of The Beautifull Cassandra from the Juvenilia in Oxford back in 2018.
Even knowing of the impossibility, a part of me still hopes one day someone will blow dust off an old wooden trunk in some forgotten attic, prise open the rusty lock, and lift out a set of musty old papers tied in decaying string.
They would shine their torch on the top page and, squinting, read the first line of handwritten text: “it is a truth universally acknowledged…”