Saturday 21 September 2019

Ball game belonging to Jane Austen to be sold at auction

The 17th century house in Chawton, Hampshire where novelist Jane Austen spent the last eight years of her life
The 17th century house in Chawton, Hampshire where novelist Jane Austen spent the last eight years of her life

A game enjoyed by Jane Austen more than 200 years ago is to be sold at auction.

It will be one of a few treasures, including a letter from Austen to her sister, at Sotheby's sale of English literature, history, children's book and illustrations in London this week.

The author's cup and ball game - also known as bilbocatch - is expected to fetch between £20,000 and £30,000.

Bilbocatch, which takes its name from the French bilboquet, was a popular domestic game at which Austen excelled.

The game has always been associated with the author, including on the rare occasions when it has been publicly exhibited.

The house in Chawton, Hampshire, in which Austen lived with her sister, Cassandra, and their mother was part of the estate inherited by her brother.

Following Austen's death in 1817, the game remained at Chawton House and has been passed down through the family ever since.

Austen gives an indication of the game's part of daily routine in a letter to her sister on October 29 1809, writing: "We do not want amusement: bilbocatch, at which George is indefatigable; spillikins, paper ships, riddles, conundrums, and cards, with watching the flow and ebb of the river, and now and then a stroll out, keep us well employed; and we mean to avail ourselves of our kind papa's consideration, by not returning to Winchester till quite the evening of Wednesday."

A letter from Austen to Cassandra, dated November 8-9 1800, is expected to fetch between £40,000 and £60,000.

It is one of a series of letters written when Cassandra was absent from home from October 1800 through to February 1801, visiting their brother Edward at Godmersham Park House, Kent.

The eleven letters that survive are probably only a fragment of those Austen wrote to Cassandra during these five months.

The most significant reference is Austen's brief comment that "Harris seems still in a poor way, from his bad habit of body; his hand bled again a little the other day, & Dr Littlehales has been with him lately".

It is the most extensive comment found in any of Austen's surviving letters about Harris Bigg-Wither, whose proposal of marriage Austen accepted, then rejected, some two years after this letter was written.

A continuation of Austen's final work, Sanditon, by one of her closest relations, Anna Lefroy - the daughter of Jane's eldest brother the Rev James Austen - is expected to fetch between £20,000 and £30,000.

The sale will take place on Tuesday.

PA Media

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