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14 February 2014, 07:13
Visitors to Jane Austen's Hampshire home in the South Downs National Park will be given a touch of true romance when the author's turquoise and gold ring goes on display for the first time on Valentine's Day, February 2014.
The ring - recently bought by American pop star, Kelly Clarkson, and subsequently saved for the Nation, was successfully brought home to Jane Austen's House Museum, Chawton, earlier this year, after a stupendous fund-raising effort.
Says Mary Guyatt, Curator of Jane Austen's House Museum, "Visitors come from all around the world to see the house where she once lived and we will now take great pleasure in displaying this pretty ring for their appreciation. The Government's decision to decline an export licence preventing Kelly Clarkson from taking the ring from the UK reflects how rarely Austen's personal effects turn up in today's art market, and having missed out at auction in 2012 we are thrilled to have had this second chance to bring it home to Chawton."
And Culture Minister Ed Vaizey adds, "I'm delighted that Jane Austen's House Museum has been successful in their campaign to 'bring the ring home to Chawton'... It's clear from the number of people who gave generously to the campaign just how admired Jane Austen remains to this day."
Visitors coming to admire the ring will also be able to see the letter written by Jane's sister-in-law, Eleanor Austen, confirming its original ownership and bequeathing the ring to her own niece Caroline in 1863. Kept in the Austen family for 200 years, it is one of only 3 pieces of jewellery known to have been owned by Jane in her lifetime. The ring contains her December birthstone, turquoise, and is said to symbolise "wisdom and spiritual journeys". It is not known if the ring was a gift or was bought by Jane herself from the proceeds of her book sales.
A second of those known pieces of Jane's jewellery is also at Jane Austen's House Museum, Chawton. In1801, Jane's 'sailor brother', Charles Austen was instrumental in the daring capture of a French privateer, and with the first of his prize money bought each of his two sisters, Jane and Cassandra, a gold and topaz cross. Both are now also kept on display at the Museum for visitors to admire.
2014 looks set to be a very special year for visitors to the Museum, with both the ring on display and a special celebration of the 200th anniversary of the publication of her novel, Mansfield Park. And this corner of the South Downs' strong ties with the poet Edward Thomas, naturalist and writer Gilbert White, a fantastic array of walking and cycling, fascinating market towns and picture-perfect villages, give visitors the perfect ingredients for a break away.