Beloved Regency author Jane Austen is facing a Black Lives Matter-inspired “historical interrogation,” over her family’s alleged links to the “slave trade,” according to the U.K.’s Telegraph.
Staff at the Jane Austen Museum, housed at the author’s home in the “Hampshire village of Chawton,” “where she wrote Emma and Mansfield Park before her death in 1817,” are concerned that the writer is linked to “the exploitation of the British Empire” because her father was, at one point, the trustee of a sugar plantation in the Caribbean and because the author was known to enjoy a good cup of tea, calling it a “refreshing, recuperative beverage.”
“Staff at the museum are now re-evaluating Jane Austen’s place in ‘Regency-era colonialism’ in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests,” The Telegraph reported Monday. “The Pride and Prejudice author’s links to slavery through her father Rev George Austen, at one time the trustee of an Antigua sugar plantation, will be highlighted with future displays at the property.”
“The museum’s director has stated that Austen’s tea-drinking, a key social ceremony in her era and her novels, also links the writer to the exploitation of the British Empire,” the Telegraph added, as did taking sugar in her tea and wearing cotton, both of which were produced, the museum says, in questionable surroundings.
“Introduced to the West by way of China, tea became an English obsession by the early 19th century, particularly once they learned how to grow crops of their own throughout territories in India, Sri Lanka, and Africa,” the New York Post reported. ‘Austen’s penchant for cotton clothing — more ‘products of empire’ — is also said to be a sign of her family’s connection to plantations in the Caribbean.”
“This is just the start of a steady and considered process of historical interrogation,” the head of the Jane Austen museum, Lizzie Dunford, told the media.
“The slave trade and the consequences of Regency-era Colonialism touched every family of means during the period. Jane Austen’s family were no exception,” she said. “As purchasers of tea, sugar, and cotton they were consumers of the products of the trade and did also have closer links via family and friends.”
“At Jane Austen’s House, we are in the process of reviewing and updating all of our interpretation, including plans to explore the Empire and Regency Colonial context of both Austen’s family and her work,” Dunford added.
Jane Austen’s works were written and published after her father died, and the Rev. George Austen, who was, by trade, a clergyman, had only a loose connection to the sugar industry — a connection that expired more than a decade before Jane Austen was even born.
“New work at the site will reflect the fact that in 1760, 15 years before Jane was born, Rev Austen became the trustee of the Antigua sugar plantation of his Oxford University friend James Nibbs,” The Telegraph noted, identifying the only way Austen’s family might have been directly involved, in any way, with the slave trade. “If Nibbs had died early, Rev Austen would have been responsible for the plantation and its slaves.”
Oddly enough, the Jane Austen museum advertises the author as a progressive and sympathetic to the abolition movement.
“Jane Austen belonged to that progressive group in society from which came the anti-slavery campaigners William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson,” the museum’s own literature notes, per the New York Post. “She reveals her social conscience in her reading and her writing.”
“According to her brother Henry, Jane Austen’s favorite poet was the abolitionist William Cowper, whose works were read by Martin Luther King,” The Telegraph added.