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On censorship and sensuality

JANE AUSTEN had more ardour in her little finger than Emily Bronte possessed in her whole body: discuss. Judgement can really only be based on Austen's novels, given the lack of kiss-and-tell material relating to her private life. This is the fault of her sister Cassandra, who edited the novelist's letters after her death and excised all references to illicit goings-on (although other material tells us that Austen did accept one offer of marriage before withdrawing her acceptance the next day).

However, the Diary can reveal that one letter escaped the sisterly blue marker. Written to her friend Martha Lloyd shortly before she died in 1817, and found in a bundle of documents in a museum in Philadelphia late last year, it refers tantalisingly to a man 'with whom I enjoyed the warmest of relations during our time in Bath; I did not much like at first what seemed to be a foppishness of nature - for instance, he seemed to care for his own hair as much as the tresses of others - but his deftness of touch, and his movement - such strength, but gentle too - across the floor at the Pump (Austen's abbreviation for Pump Room) is now forever with me; please help him after I am gone, my dearest Martha, in any way you can.'

The letter - mostly taken up with rather childlike reminiscences of her father - later refers to someone with the initials FC, although it is unclear whether she is talking about the same man. Janeite scholars are now working on the theory that the man could have worked in a hairdressing salon in Bath, and could have provided the model for Frank Churchill in Emma (which she wrote eight years after the family left Bath). According to one scholar, Dr Prila Loof, Churchill's surreptitious affair with Jane Fairfax - ironically, Austen is scornful of the relationship in the novel, partly because Churchill disappears at a crucial stage on the pretext of having his hair cut - could be as close a representation of the author's own experience as can be found in her work.

POLICE officers in West Yorkshire were not best pleased when their Chief Constable, Keith Hellawell, speaking during a radio interview, accused some of them of malingering. Apparently 300 officers cry off sick each day. Incensed, officers from the Police Federation arranged a meeting with Hellawell, but come the day, the appointment was cancelled. Their boss wasn't feeling well.

Wheel of misfortune

AMONG the tens of thousands of bicycles stolen or vandalised every year, one specimen is causing particular heartache. Bicycle Wheel, Marcel Duchamp's famous 1963 sculpture, has gone missing after being loaned to exhibitions of Duchamp's art at the Palazzo Grassi, Venice, and the Biennale d'Art Contemporain.

According to Art Newspaper, the sculpture, said to be worth pounds 50,000, went astray somewhere between a French shipping agent and the British shipper James Bourlet, who fears the wheel may have been recycled (so to speak) with a consignment of empty crates.

THE TORY casualty at the Christchurch by-election, Robert Hayward, has been reduced to standing in council elections in Peckham, south London. His chances are not good. The ward includes the Labour HQ in Walworth Road.

Cut-price souvenirs

WHILE Bonhams, as I noted yesterday, could auction a photograph of John Major for only pounds 20 (pounds 20 less than the guide price), Butlers' Court School, in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, has auctioned a pen autographed by the PM in silver ink for a knockdown pounds 13 - compared with pounds 250 for a shirt signed by the Manchester United squad and pounds 150 for a cue signed by the snooker player Steve Davis, another personality with a perceived boredom problem.


1 April 1869 Edmond Goncourt writes in his journal: 'Sat in an omnibus next to a little peasant girl who looked as if she had just arrived in Paris to go into service. It was impossible for her to sit still. Try as she might to appear unconcerned, to keep her arms folded, she seemed to feel a restless embarassment in this huge, overwhelming city, a shy, agitated disquiet mingled with a curiosity which made her turn her head time and again to look out of the window behind. A little dumpling in a white bonnet. Like a goat rubbing itself against a post, or as if she still carried some of the fleas of her native province, she kept straightening herself against the back of her seat, shifting haunches that were already soft and lascivious and ready to slip into the limp routine of a Parisian streetwalker. As nervous as an animal in a waggon, biting her nails, absent-minded, happy but a little frightened, she would mutter something to herself and then give a tired yawn.'