News | July 10, 2023

Jane Austen’s Lost Music Book Discovered

Chawton House

The music book once owned by Jane Austen and bearing her signature donated to Chawton House

A music book once belonging to Jane Austen and bearing her signature, whereabouts unknown since 1978, has come to light.

The volume, Domenico Corri’s Select Collection of Choice Music for the Harpsichord or Piano Forte (c.1790) has been donated to Chawton House ahead of its 20th Anniversary by direct descendants of Edward Austen Knight, Jane’s older brother, who inherited the Chawton estate from childless relatives. 

A number of Jane Austen’s music books were held in the Knight family library at Chawton House, this being the home of her brother Edward’s descendants until 1987. The books remained in family hands until after World War II. The last time this volume was consulted was by Patrick Piggott in 1978 but it had disappeared by the time Jon A. Gillaspie examined the collection in 1987. When the University of Southampton digitised the known Austen Family music books in 2016, this volume was noted as “lost”. 

We now know that the volume had been in the possession of Jenyth Worsley, granddaughter of Ethel Adela Worsley, née Knight. Ethel grew up at Chawton House and was the great-niece of Jane Austen. A love of music clearly proliferated in this family line since Jenyth Worsley was a composer, working at the pioneering BBC Radiophonic Workshop in 1960s.

“Our cousin was an extraordinary woman whose artistic talent, much like Jane Austen’s, was ahead of her time,” said Charlotte Hatfield and Joanna Worsley, executors of Jenyth’s will. “Being an activist and part of the feminist movement, she certainly tried to redress the balance, advocating for fairness and equality amongst the sexes. She had a great love of literature and was involved in the poetry society during her time at Oxford. It was this literary background of hers which meant the library at Chawton House was the perfect place for Jane Austen’s music book to end up. We had no idea she had it, so you can imagine our surprise when we found it amongst Jenyth's things!”

Emma Yandle, Curator of Chawton House, commented: “It’s hard to convey the feeling of turning the page and coming across that unmistakable signature of one of literature's most beloved figures. Upon examination, I found a missing page replaced with a hand-written copy of the music, which we believe is Jane Austen’s own hand. This surprising discovery makes the volume even more special, bringing us closer to Jane Austen’s world at home on the piano. The volume bears the stamp, ‘Chawton House, Alton, Hants’ so it’s wonderful to see it returned to its former home.”

Jeanice Brooks, Professor of Music at the University of Southampton is lead on the Austen Family Music Books project. “This important rediscovery underlines music’s significance to Austen’s life and work, offering a new window on her artistic world,” she said. “Putting this work together with Austen’s other albums provides glimpses at the extraordinarily varied and vibrant musical culture that nourished the novelist’s brilliant imagination and underpinned the musical scenes in her novels. The manuscript annotations and other signs of use and care suggest that this book was a treasured object that served for many years.” 

Jane Austen’s music book will be on display in the library as part of Chawton House’s 20th anniversary weekend, taking place July 14- 16. Visitors will be able to see the music book up close for the first time alongside other significant works in the collection, including Anne Sharp’s presentation copy of Jane Austen’s novel Emma, in the 'Private View: Treasures from the Collection' event, taking place on July 16.