Jane Austen in the Library
Jane Austen’s life and work has inspired countless writers and artists, and as part of the celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of her death we take a look at how she is represented in Winchester School of Art Library.
Austen’s work has been published in many different editions featuring iconic cover designs but maybe none as unique as the one featured in our Artists’ Book Collection, a knitted Penguin Classic of Sense and Sensibility. The artist, Cally Barker, is well represented in our collection, a favourite being her knitted postcard Cevennes. Her work focusses on memory and women’s lives, and the vehicle for exploring this in her work is knitting, stitching and sewing. At the time of her hugely successful Book Project we commissioned her to knit a book jacket for a Jane Austen novel as a link to this writer’s importance to Winchester. The result was a knitted and stitched cover to Austen’s Sense and Sensibility in the iconic Penguin paperback colours of orange and cream, presented in its own cream calico bag. This inspiring and much-loved item in the collection featured as part of our Books by Artists exhibition at the Winchester Discovery Centre in 2013.
Over the years, many of our students and staff have produced site-specific work around Winchester and in particular in response to Winchester Cathedral. One ex-student, Jeryll Church, chose to respond to Jane Austen’s grave in the Cathedral. The artist explains in a statement on the work that she chose Austen “due to her detailed portrayal of people’s lives”. The structure and form of the piece is that of
a woven text contained within a concertina book in order to exhibit how each phase of one’s life (and the experiences lived) flow and fold into the next one until life’s end is reached.
While very different, these two pieces reference a rich textile heritage which is also represented in our Knitting Reference Library (KRL). Founded by Montse Stanley and also consisting of the collections of Richard Rutt and Jane Waller, it contains many primary texts, particularly knitting manuals, whose precedents would have been used by those inhabiting Austen’s world.
Within the KRL we have a distinct collection of fiction in which Montse Stanley annotated novels where there is a reference to knitting. These range from Agatha Christie’s detective fiction through to works by Virginia Woolf. From this remarkable collection, the following passage from Stanley’s copy of Austen’s Persuasion is marked with a pencil stroke in the margin.
As soon as I could use my hands, she taught me to knit; which has been a great amusement; and she put me in the way of making these little thread cases, pincushions and card-racks, which you always find me so busy about and which supply me with the means of doing a little good to one or two very poor families in this neighbourhood.
A complementary text which we hold is Jane Austen fashion: fashion and needlework in the works of Jane Austen which grew out of an earlier pamphlet, A Frivolous Distinction, also in the collection. In these works, Penelope Byrde researches references to costume and needlework in the words and works of Jane Austen.
An exhibition of these books, alongside examples of 19th century knitting manuals, is on display at Winchester School of Art Library from 1-17 June 2017, Monday-Friday 9.00-19.00, and on Saturdays 10.00-16.00.
If you are in Winchester attending one of the many exhibitions or events celebrating Jane Austen 200 then why not drop in and experience Jane Austen in the Library?