Music book once owned by Jane Austen and bearing her signature donated to Chawton House 

Chawton House, Hampshire, July 2023. A music book once belonging to Jane Austen and bearing her signature, whereabouts unknown since 1978, has been rediscovered. The volume, Domenico Corri’s Select Collection of Choice Music for the Harpsichord or Piano Forte (c.1790) has been donated to Chawton House ahead of its 20th Anniversary by direct descendants of Edward Austen Knight, Jane’s older brother, who inherited the Chawton estate from childless relatives. 

A number of Jane Austen’s music books were held in the Knight family library at Chawton House, this being the home of her brother Edward’s descendants until 1987. The books remained in family hands until after World War II. The last time this volume was consulted was by Patrick Piggott in 1978 but it had disappeared by the time Jon A. Gillaspie examined the collection in 1987. When the University of Southampton digitised the known Austen Family music books in 2016, this volume was noted as “lost”. 

We now know that the volume had been in the possession of Jenyth Worsley, granddaughter of Ethel Adela Worsley, née Knight. Ethel grew up at Chawton House and was the great-niece of Jane Austen. A love of music clearly proliferated in this family line; Jenyth Worsley was a composer, working at the pioneering BBC Radiophonic Workshop in 1960s.  

Our cousin was an extraordinary woman whose artistic talent, much like Jane Austen’s, was ahead of her time,” say Charlotte Hatfield and Joanna Worsley, executors of Jenyth’s will. “Being an activist and part of the feminist movement, she certainly tried to redress the balance, advocating for fairness and equality amongst the sexes. She had a great love of literature and was involved in the poetry society during her time at Oxford. It was this literary background of hers which meant the library at Chawton House was the perfect place for Jane Austen’s music book to end up. We had no idea she had it, so you can imagine our surprise when we found it amongst Jenyth’s things! We are delighted to return it to its former home at Chawton.” 

Pictured: Clio O’Sullivan studies the music book with a magnifying glass while in the library of Chawton House, displaying Jane Austen’s signature on the inside page.
Jane Austen’s Music book has been discovered after it was missing for 40 years
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“It’s hard to convey the feeling of turning the page and coming across that unmistakable signature of one of literature’s most beloved figures,” says Emma Yandle, Curator of Chawton House. “Upon examination, I found a missing page replaced with a hand-written copy of the music, which we believe is Jane Austen’s own hand.  This surprising discovery makes the volume even more special, bringing us closer to Jane Austen’s world. The volume bears the stamp, ‘Chawton House, Alton, Hants’ so it’s wonderful to see it returned to its former home.” 

“This important rediscovery underlines music’s significance to Austen’s life and work, offering a new window on her artistic world,” says Jeanice Brooks, Professor of Music at the University of Southampton and lead on the Austen Family Music Books project. “Putting this work together with Austen’s other albums provides glimpses at the extraordinarily varied and vibrant musical culture that nourished the novelist’s brilliant imagination and underpinned the musical scenes in her novels. The manuscript annotations and other signs of use and care suggest that this book was a treasured object that served for many years.” 

Philanthropist and tech entrepreneur Sandy Lerner purchased the lease for Chawton House in 1993, incorporating the charity Chawton House Library with a groundbreaking vision to turn it into a centre of research for early women’s writing. The next ten years saw the renovation of the house and gardens; and the acquisition of a remarkable collection of women’s writing including first editions, rare works, manuscripts and portraits. In 2003 Chawton House opened to the public. 

“In the last twenty years, Chawton House has flourished as a significant cultural institution,” says Katie Childs, Chief Executive of Chawton House. “From our award-winning educational programme, to huge theatrical performances and artistic responses by inspired visitors of all ages, sharing the arts with everyone is at the heart of what we do. This donation is testament to our reputation as an enriching place of creative influence that once inspired Jane Austen. Music had a profound impact on her life and writing, as did Chawton House, which she frequently visited and referred to as the ‘Great House’. Her music book will take its place amongst the literary treasures in our collection, inspiring everyone who walks through the door or joins us online. In the wake of this donation, we will create a public programme inspired by Jane’s beloved music book, so watch this space! This lost treasure returns to us at a significant time: twenty years of being open to the public. We look forward to sharing this find with the public as part of our 20th anniversary celebrations.” 

Jane Austen’s music book will be on display in the library as part of Chawton House’s 20th anniversary weekend, taking place on 14 – 16 July. Visitors will be able to see the music book, once treasured by Austen, up close for the first time. Enjoy a unique opportunity to see the music book alongside other significant works in the collection, including Anne Sharp’s presentation copy of Jane Austen’s novel Emma, in the ‘Private View: Treasures from the Collection’ event, taking place on Sunday 16 in the evening.