You’d think a single, rich dude was moving in next door, the way the Austen community’s buzzing with the news: the only Austen manuscript still in private hands, a fragment of The Watsons, is scheduled to be auctioned at Sotheby’s in July, with a predicted selling price of nearly half a million dollars.
What’s that I hear about five thousand a year? Maybe there’s going to be a ball!
As much as I like the idea of owning an Austen manuscript, I think I’d rather a public (or private-but-willing-to-share) institution end up with The Watsons. Sure, the prospect of a temperature-controlled, carefully lit glass case in somebody’s living room makes a certain amount of collector-ly sense (as much as temperature-controlled anything in the living room can make any kind of sense), but having a practically priceless manuscript around the house seems a bit like buying a pet iguana for a dog person. There’s no sticking the original Watsons in one’s purse and heading down to the park—no dog-earing the pages or underlining favorite passages, one hopes—and so any private owner is likely to do with the manuscript exactly what they would if they saw it in a museum: look at it, sigh over it, marvel at the illegibility of Jane’s handwriting, and yet imagine her at her impossibly tiny writing table, just like the rest of us. And so I don’t begrudge anybody the desire or the ability to purchase the manuscript privately, but it does seem to me that the amount of joy and wonder and inspiration it disperses into the world could be greater—not just spread more widely, but actually greater—than it could possibly be in the hands of one person, even a person who loves it $485,000 worth.
Readers? What do you think—would you rather see The Watsons come to a museum near you, or would you rather press your nose up against the museum in your very own library?Jane Austen, Jane Austen's Fiction Manuscripts, Sotheby's, The Watsons on Thursday, May 26, 2011 · 1 Comment »