Jane Austen is, without debate, one of the greatest British writers to have ever lived. Her novels have been read, studied and enjoyed the world over for a hundred years and are still being read and loved by millions. Personally I received my first Austen, a hard cover complete works, at the age of eleven from my year 6 teacher. I still remember he said it would only be a few years until I was ready for them. With more and more books being turned into movies Austin is still being adapted today, into films and television programmes across the world. She is a wonderfully strong role model, not just for women but for writers as a whole. She has also been honoured with a place on our currency (but don’t get me started on that, that’s a topic for another post).
Yet I am still baffled by the importance placed on one piece of jewellery owned by Austen that recently was put up for auction. The ring, which has been in Austen’s family since the writer passed it to her sister, was put up for auction, upon which American singer Kelly Clarkson bid and eventually won. With no arguments from any of the family or anyone in the auction house. Which is when the government got involved.
Rather than speaking with Miss Clarkson or approaching her in any way, they simply placed an export ban on the ring. Which, in its defence, is a very pretty ring and I’m sure was worn very much by the writer. But Clarkson won the ring fairly in a setting which granted her full ownership of the item. Why has such importance been placed on an item so many people knew absolutely nothing about? While Austen was an important figure, she was first and foremost a writer, not a jewellery designer or fashion icon. A lost manuscript is one thing, a lot accesory quite another.
If the item was such a ‘national treasure’ as it has been described, why was it not purchased directly from the family, or bid on at the same auction Miss Clarkson purchased it from? If the ring was as important as the ministers were saying it was, surely someone would have come forward to purchase it to keep it in our green and pleasant land. Even another private buyer could have purchased the item, so long as it stayed in Britain. Which begs the question, was it purely because it was an American bought it that these events came around?
Clarkson is a public figure, with a clear love of this piece of history otherwise she would not have pledged such a huge amount to acquire it. She had already been photographer wearing a replica of the ring, so one would highly doubt the original would be locked in a closet and forgotten about. More likely she would wear the piece daily, getting more publicity for Austen and promoting the legacy the writer left behind.
Instead, after rigorous fundraising, enough money was raised to buy the ring back from Clarkson in order for it to go in a display case in a cabinet to be admired from a distance. Personally, if I were to visit any kind of Jane Austen collection, I would be far more interested in her manuscripts, writing tools and original drafts than a piece of jewellery she may or may not have worn on a daily basis. So a piece of our history would have gone to America. So did a whole heap of our people a couple of hundred years ago. We’re still standing aren’t we?
What are your views? Are we justified keeping such items in the UK, or should our history be allowed to be purchased and taken away by fans and collecters?