Jane Austen by the Sea
17 June 2017 to 8 January 2018
Prince Regent Gallery
Free with Royal Pavilion admission, members free

Jane Austen was one of the most successful writers of the early 1800s, and her novels are still enormously popular today. To mark the bicentenary of her death, this display at the Royal Pavilion explores Austen’s relationship with Brighton and other coastal towns.

Image of woman wearing a dress
Brighton ‘walking dress’ of 1818, courtesy of University of Sussex

Jane Austen by the Sea looks at the seaside context of Austen’s plots and paints a picture of the leading resort of Brighton in the early nineteenth century, when it was a fashionable ‘watering place’ featured in novels like Pride and Prejudice.

It also features one of her most high profile fans: the Prince Regent (later King George IV), who created the Royal Pavilion. Austen was encouraged to dedicate Emma to him in 1815 – even though she seemed not to approve of his lifestyle.

Highlights of the display include:

  • King George IV’s personal, specially bound copy of Emma – on display at the Royal Pavilion for the first time (generously lent by Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal Collection)
  • A mourning brooch containing a lock of Jane Austen’s hair
  • The manuscript of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, Sanditon, set in a seaside town in Sussex
  • Examples of Regency costume and accessories, including a wedding dress that has never been on show before and a dress in the style of the ‘Brighton Walking Dress’ featured in a London fashion magazine in 1817
  • Letters from Jane Austen to the Prince Regent’s librarian, James Stanier Clarke
    Military Dandies or Heroes of 1818
    William Heath, published by M. Cleary
  • One of Jane Austen’s music books
  • Prints, paintings and caricatures of the resorts and fashions popular with seaside visitors
  • Rare images of Brighton as it looked in Jane Austen’s lifetime

The display also reassesses Austen’s relationship with Brighton, in the light of a long misunderstanding arising from a handwritten letter of 8 January 1799.  Curator Dr Alexandra Loske said: “For many years, Austen has been quoted as having written: ‘I assure you that I dread the idea of going to Brighton as much as you can do..’, but her sentence actually referred to Bookham, a village in Surrey, rather than Brighton.  We now know that Austen may not have felt as negatively about the town as has been thought.”

Jane Austen by the Sea formed part of our Regency Season in 2017, which also included the exhibition Constable and Brighton (now closed), and the display Visions of the Royal Pavilion Estate (on until 10 Dec 2017) (both at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery).

Also in our Regency Season

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