We've all read Jane Austen's words, some of us have probably even committed some of her most famous to memory. ("It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife," anyone?) Much rarer is it, however, to read Jane Austen's actual words, the ones she committed down to paper with her own hand. Which makes the recent discovery of a snippet of Austen's handwriting incredibly exciting.
According to The Guardian, Austen's paper, a mere five-by-one inch fragment, features lines believed to have been copied from a sermon of her brother's and faint traces of a handwriting on its back, which scientists will try to decipher. The lines from the sermon are a meditation on the inauthenticity of manners, a central concern of Jane Austen's, and apparently her brother's:
Men may get into a habit of repeating the words of our Prayers by rote, perhaps without thoroughly understanding — certainly without thoroughly feeling their full force & meaning,
Overconcern for perfecting manners, as we see throughout her novels, often makes people phony, distracting them from the true, meaningful task at hand — prayer and connection with a higher power, as in this example.
This fragment of writer dates back to 1814, an interesting time stamp since that was the same year Jane published Mansfield Park, which included a reflection on prayer very similar to the one found on this piece of paper.
If this news has you hungering for some Austen, but you don't want to go back an re-read Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time, we recommend you check out Northanger Abbey, in which Austen takes the conventions of the gothic novel to task with her usual sharpness and wit.
Image: Wikimedia Commons