Portable Writing Desk that Belonged to Jane Austen, 18th c, The British Library
This unassuming rectangular mahogany box opens into a sloped writing desk with a leather top. It could be locked for safe keeping and features compartments for storing writing supplies, spectacles, and important papers.
This object is for me-and many Janeites- akin to a holy relic.
Jane Austen’s portable writing desk was lovingly bestowed by her father as either a twentieth birthday or Christmas present in 1794. Such a gift clearly shows that Mr. Austen valued his daughter’s writing talent.
During one of Jane’s journeys, the desk was accidentally placed with other luggage onto a carriage bound for the West Indies. Such a terrifying close call-I don’t even want to think about which manuscript(s) we almost lost forever!
I was lucky enough to see this treasure up close on two occasions while in London. Being on the other side of the glass from the desk upon which my favorite author wrote, edited, and stored some of my favorite novels was indescribably moving. I still get goosebumps thinking about it.
At this rate, I don’t think I can handle seeing her tiny tripod writing table in Chawton Cottage/The Jane Austen House Museum. I’m pretty sure I will cry.
You can read more about The History of Jane Austen’s Writing Desk in JASNA’s Persuasions magazine.
The desk is on view as part of the Treasures of the British Library in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend making the pilgrimage. It’s certainly an experience I won’t soon forget.
Enjoy the final day of Austen in August!