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Jane Austen in Henrietta Street

Poor Jane Austen. The new £10 note goes into circulation today, with her face on it. Jane is a British icon, a national treasure, one of the most revered novelists in the world. And she never knew a thing about it.

Her success didn’t come until many years after her death. She was always poor, obscure and anonymous in her own day. Her books didn’t even have her own name on the spine. They were written by ‘A Lady’ instead.

Here’s a picture of 10 Henrietta Street in London’s Covent Garden. Jane’s favourite brother Henry lived there in 1813. Jane and her niece came up from the country to stay with him in September. As the author of Pride and Prejudice, which had just been published, Jane wanted Henry to negotiate a price with publishers for her follow up book, Mansfield Park. Sitting at the first floor window just above the shop sign, she told her sister all about it, soon after she arrived:

‘Here I am, my dearest Cassandra, seated in the Breakfast, Dining, sitting room… Fanny will join me as soon as she is dressed & begin her Letter… We arrived at a quarter past 4 & were kindly welcomed by the Coachman, & then by his Master, and then by William, & then by Mrs Perigord, who all met us before we reached the foot of the Stairs.

‘Mme de Bigeon was below dressing us a most comfortable dinner of Soup, Fish, Bouillee, Partridge & an apple Tart, which we sat down to soon after 5, after cleaning & dressing ourselves & feeling that we were most commodiously disposed of. The little adjoining Dressing-room to our apartment makes Fanny & myself very well off indeed, & as we have poor Eliza’s bed our space is ample in every way.’

Henry took them all to the theatre that night:

‘At 7 we set off in a Coach for the Lyceum – were at home again about 4 hours and 1/2 – had Soup & wine & water, & then went to our Holes… Of our three evenings in Town one was spent at the Lyceum & another at Covent Garden; – the Clandestine Marriage was the most respectable of the performances, the rest were Sing-song & trumpery.’

The Lyceum theatre has been rebuilt since then, but it’s still there, just around the corner from Henry Austen’s house in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden.




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