The team at Jane Austen's House asked me to name my favourite object in the collection as part of #MuseumWeek. Where to start? I love everything. I almost said the shutters. One of my happiest memories of my time as writer in residence is of opening the shutters in Jane and Cassandra’s bedroom on Jane’s birthday. I almost said the lottery fish (so Pride and Prejudice) or the exquisite ivory silk shoes (we’d call them ballet flats) that belonged to Marianne Knight, or the collection of objects found under the floorboards (there is even a tiny gun) or the patchwork quilt, or Jane’s tiny glasses, or the lace she made. The list goes on and on, but I’m going to say the carved wooden box made by Francis Austen on one of his many long voyages. It’s in a cabinet in The Admirals’ Room and is so Persuasion.
I’ve loved this box since I was very small and long before I knew who had made it or whose brother he had been. My great aunt kept it on top of her bureau in the sitting room at her house in St. Cross, Winchester. I coveted that box and can remember using a finger to trace the intricate patterns carved on its sloping lid. My aunt kept tiny toys in it for visiting children, the sort of things you got from Christmas crackers and cereal packets, probably Ricicles and Frosties. I don’t think she would have been the one to eat those; they were probably bought for the nephews and nieces. She did have a very sweet tooth, though, and there were always boxes of fudge and toffees and a pantry full of preserves bought at the Women’s Institute market.
I have such vivid memories of having tea with my great aunts, struggling to spread butter on thinly cut bread and making agonizing decisions about which jam to choose. Miniatures of Jane Austen’s father and her sailor brothers hung on the wall above the table. I loved looking at those too and had no idea that they were quite important, and that one day I’d be looking at them at Jane Austen’s House Museum which is exactly where they belong.
Rebecca Smith - Writer in Residence 2009-10
Rebecca is a novelist and Jane Austen’s five times great niece