On Monday 6 February, the British Library and Jane Austen’s House Museum hosted a schools study day, devoted to the novelist’s life and works. Timed to coincide with commemorations of the 200th anniversary of Austen’s death, the study day accompanied a temporary display at the Library, ‘Jane Austen Among Family and Friends’. Here, the three notebooks containing her earliest known compositions were reunited for the first time in forty years. Volume the First, Volume the Second, and Volume the Third, as she styled them, include Austen’s riotous miniature fictions, dramatic sketches, and poems written and revised between the ages of eleven or twelve and seventeen.
The Jane Austen Study Day featured talks from Professor Kathryn Sutherland (University of Oxford and Jane Austen's House Museum Trustee) and Professor John Mullan (University College, London) as well as a series of interactive workshops designed to bring the world of the novels to life. Three parallel sessions explored the adaptation and performance of Austen’s works, the significance of dancing in the novels, and Regency society’s expectations of young women.
Using a range of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century texts and engravings, Freya Johnston (University of Oxford) and Annalie Talent (Jane Austen’s House Museum) ran the workshop ‘Girls Behaving Badly’. Students were introduced to some of the models for female behaviour that shaped Austen’s teenage writing—models that were recommended in manuals of instruction, or ‘conduct books’, as they were known. These popular and lucrative publications united religion, history, geography, home economics, and advice on female accomplishments. As a teenager, Austen set out to distort the conduct-book formula in order to mock the rigid boundaries it set for girls’ education and prospects in life.