Last month, Sandra Clark, a Jane Austen collector in Texas, surprised Chawton House, the ancestral home of Austen, by gifting them a complete set of the author's novels that had once been housed in the family library. The Austen set was published in 1833 by Richard Bentley and bears the bookplate of Montagu George Knight, the son of Jane Austen's nephew, Edward Knight. The books are known to have been held in the Chawton House library until at least 1908, however why the books were sold (or to whom) remains a mystery. The books eventually made their way to south Texas, where they were discovered again by Clark.
The Bentley set of Austen novels are also significant for being the first reprinting of Austen's works after her death. Bentley's decision to publish the books as part of his "Standard Novels" series helped establish Austen's place in the literary canon.
An upcoming exhibition at Chawton House Library entitled "Fickle Fortunes: Jane Austen and Germaine de Staël" will include the set, along with a variety of other first editions, manuscripts, and letters.
Interested readers can learn more about the discovery in a post from Professor Janine Barchas of the University of Texas at Austin and a board member of the North American Friends of Chawton House Library. Barchas recognized the Knight bookplate in Clark's Austen collection and helped facilitate the gift.
[Image from Chawton House]