The three-volume edition of Austen’s 1815 book includes a handwritten message “from the author” and was bought for £375,000, the highest amount any printed work by the novelist has sold for.
However, the inscription is not by Austen herself, but by the publisher, as was custom. It was presented to Austen’s friend Anne Sharp, who was governess to her brother Edward’s children.
London rare book dealers Peter Harrington said it was the only presentation copy of an Austen novel with a written inscription known to exist.
The copy of Emma will now go on public display for the first time at Chawton House in Hampshire, after its anonymous American buyer insisted the text stay in the UK.
Once the home of the author’s brother, Edward, Chawton House is now a research institution specialising in women’s writing.
Peter Harrington owner Pom Harrington said: “The buyer of this unique copy of Austen’s Emma expressed his wish for the work to stay in England… Chawton House’s support of early women’s literature made it the perfect choice, as Sharp served as confidante, cheerleader and sometime critic of Austen’s works.
“She was part of the intimate circle among whom Jane circulated copies of her novels and recorded their responses. Jane took Anne’s reactions to her novels seriously, asking her to be ‘perfectly honest’ in her assessments, and noted her comments in her logbook.”
The book is due to go on display at Chawton House early next year.
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