Austen Bigg-Wither letter on auction block again

Jane Austen letter to Harris Bigg-Wither

LONDON (AFN)—Sotheby’s announced today that the letter Jane Austen wrote to the man who had asked her to marry will once again go on the block at the famed auction house. The letter had been bought by the British Library the first time it had come up for sale, but problems with the ownership of the letter made the sale fall through.

The  £575,000 paid by the library the first go-round, however, will probably be surpassed this time, experts agree. Clive Allen, an appraiser who’s appeared on both the U.K. and American versions of The Antiques Roadshow, said, “The first time the letter came up, the market really didn’t know how Austen’s identification on the AfterNet would affect prices—whether having a Jane Austen who’s publishing again would drive down the value of extant letters and manuscripts. But now that everyone’s realized that though she may be online, she still won’t be putting pen to paper…well I think the final selling price will be at least a million pounds.”

The backside of the picture frame explains it contents. The exact wording of the letter will only be known after it is sold and its release will be up to the owner.

Jane Austen, the Regency author who wrote Pride and Prejudice and who published her completed Sanditon in 2011, is rumored to have a new book, set in modern day, ready for publication. That news, coupled with the roller coaster ride that has been the movie adaptation of Sanditon (three directors, five lead actor changes, two movie studios and no definite release date), has made Austen a hot property.

The controversy over the Austen letter has further kept the author in the news ever since it’s existence was dramatically unveiled at the 2011 Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America. The letter, which the author has admitted is genuine, was never sent to Harris Bigg-Wither, the only man to propose to her. She had received the proposal at age 27, before she had published her first book, and returned the proposal the next day.

The exact contents of the letter are not known, although Austen has said: “I wrote [it] when full of emotion, trying to convince myself that I’d made the only proper choice, despite the many benefits such a marriage would bring.”

At the time, Austen, her mother and sister, were essentially homeless after the death of Austen’s father, the Rev. George Austen. Marriage to the wealthy Bigg-Wither would have assured a home for the three women.

The letter was part of the estate of Mrs. Amanda Cavendish, and was sold by her at auction after her mother’s death, but since then, her daughter has contested the sale.

Miss Austen has withheld comment on this latest sale, which Sotheby’s predicts will occur sometime in July. Austen died July 18, 1817.

UPDATE 08:59:13 UMT: The letter was port of the estate of Mrs. Amanda Corwain.

UPDATE 09:11:22 UMT: The letter was first sold by Mrs. Amanda Westerby, who inherited the letter from her mother, Mrs. Amanda Corwain. Mrs. Corwain objected to the sale and the British Library agreed to stop the purchase. Since then, Mrs. Corwain and her daughter have agreed to share the proceeds.

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