Ex­tra­or­di­nary pho­tos of Jane Austen's fam­ily dis­cov­ered in old photo al­bum

Their lives were just as dra­matic as some of nov­el­ist's most fa­mous char­ac­ters

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - INTERNATIONAL - By Rod Arde­hali

An ex­tra­or­di­nary col­lec­tions pho­tos of Jane Austen's fam­ily have been dis­cov­ered in an old pic­ture al­bum bought on eBay by a his­tory buff, of­fer­ing a snap­shot into the lives of the 18th cen­tury writer's near­est and dear­est.

Austen, whose works in­clud­ing Pride and Prej­u­dice, Sense and Sen­si­bil­ity and Emma are reg­u­larly cited as among the great­est nov­els ever writ­ten, has never been pic­tured her­self but the re­mark­able dis­cov­ery gives his­to­ri­ans an un­prece­dented in­sight into the in­spi­ra­tions for her most fa­mous char­ac­ters.

Karen Levers, 51, bought the tatty al­bum on­line ex­pect­ing it to be packed full of pic­tures of charm­ing - if per­fectly or­di­nary - 19th cen­tury aris­to­crats in their sprawl­ing manors and es­tates.

But to her ut­ter de­light she found the col­lec­tion to be pho­to­graph af­ter pho­to­graph of Austen's fam­ily - many of whose lives mir­rored those in her nov­els.

Ex­perts said the value of the al­bum 'can't be un­der­stated' and the al­bum shows her fam­ily 'lived out, quite with­out mean­ing to, the plots of her nov­els'.

It was put to­gether by Lord Ge­orge Au­gusta Hill - an aris­to­crat who mar­ried two of Austen's nieces, both daugh­ters of her older brother Ed­ward. The pho­tos fea­ture fam­ily mem­bers with sto­ries which could have come straight out of the pages of her nov­els.

There is the wed­ding of a heroic new­ly­wed who lost his arm to a tiger while fight­ing in In­dia, just be­fore mar­ry­ing Jane's great niece. Oth­ers show Austen's nephew who scan­dalously eloped to marry his sis­ter's step­daugh­ter.

It fea­tures her favourite niece Fanny Knight, de­scribed by the nov­el­ist as 'al­most an­other sis­ter', pic­tured decades later than any pre­vi­ous sketches.

The al­bum was un­know­ingly dis­cov­ered and brought back to its Ir­ish home from Amer­ica by Mrs Levers who found it on eBay. She fell in love with Ir­ish his­tory while re­search­ing her hus­band Nor­man's fam­ily her­itage and thought she was buy­ing a per­fectly or­di­nary aris­to­cratic fam­ily's al­bum.

It was only when she started Googling the pen­cil-writ­ten names be­neath the pho­tos she dis­cov­ered the al­bum be­longed to Austen's fam­ily.

The true iden­tity of the nieces and neph­ews was only dis­cov­ered in re­cent years.

Elated mother-of-three Mrs Levers, from Sixmile­bridge, County Clare, Ire­land, said: 'It's just in­cred­i­ble to put a name and faces to­gether.

' It gives us a glimpse into the lives of those clos­est to Jane. The photo of wed­ding at Chaw­ton House is my favourite.

'The sheer amount of brides­maids is ex­tra­or­di­nary. You can only pick out the bride - Jane's great niece El­iz­a­beth - be­cause she has the largest bou­quet. Chaw­ton House - or rather a cot­tage on the fam­ily es­tate - is where she wrote in the last years of her life.

'The al­bum is an im­por­tant in­sight be­cause Jane's fam­ily were so im­por­tant to her, be­cause she had no chil­dren of her own. I think the al­bum al­lows us to learn more about her through her fam­ily's lives.'

Mrs Levers got in­ter­ested in fam­ily his­tory while re­search­ing her hus­band's an­ces­try and the his­tory of their home, Mount Iev­ers Court and bought the al­bum off eBay in Novem­ber.

The hard­backed photo al­bum was be­ing ad­ver­tised as be­long­ing to Lord Ge­orge Hill of Hills­bor­ough Cas­tle, for $2,800, but Mrs Levers got it with an of­fer of $1,000.

Pho­tog­ra­phy was in­vented in the 1830s; the photo al­bum shows the fam­ily and places which are said to have in­flu­enced her writ­ing.

His­to­ri­ans are cur­rently pour­ing over the al­bum and ex­perts are hop­ing to stage an ex­hi­bi­tion of the pho­tos in the fu­ture.

One of the pic­tures from the al­bum. The 1865 wed­ding at Chaw­ton House, the El­iz­a­bethan fam­ily manor house in Alton. The bearded groom, Cap­tain Ed­ward Bradford, (stand­ing right) can be seen with an empty sleeve, hav­ing lost his arm in a tiger at­tack while hunt­ing boar in In­dia.

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