Professor E. J. Clery will join us to launch her book Jane Austen: The Bankers Sister. Her talk will focus on the significance of Henry Austen’s business in the neighbourhood of Alton, where he was partner in a country bank, and in Chawton village itself. During the economic downturn beginning in 1814, the bank began to run into trouble, and the repercussions can be seen in the last two novels Jane Austen wrote, Emma and Persuasion.
Jane Austen was the insignificant unmarried daughter of a country parson and a failed author, unable to get her work published. The banking career of her favourite brother transformed her prospects. In London, with Henry’s help, she would re-invent herself as a professional woman of letters. She was the banker’s brilliant sister, and new vistas of experience and opportunity were opened up to her. Versions of Henry appear throughout her novels, not least in the charming but unscrupulous Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park, master of the fashionable card game ‘Speculation’.
This book explains why the decision of the Bank of England to put a portrait of Jane Austen on the £10 note could not be more appropriate. Henry Austen is a fascinating figure in his own right, a member of the ‘paper money aristocracy’ who thrived in the volatile economic conditions of the Napoleonic Wars. He married his glamourous cousin Eliza, Comtesse de Feuillide, and had valuable connections to the East India Company, the royalist French emigrant community, and the corrupt political establishment, even including the dissolute inner circle of the Prince Regent himself. Then at the coming of peace Henry’s business collapsed into bankruptcy, with devastating consequences for the entire family. At this moment of crisis the bond between brother and sister remained as strong as ever, and the book is also an exploration of the way their intense attachment shaped Jane’s creative imagination.
Packed with sensational revelations about her life and fresh insights into her writings, Clery’s engaging and meticulously researched study will change the way Jane Austen is understood.
E.J. Clery is a professor of English at University of Southampton and author of publications on the literature and culture of the eighteenth century and Romantic period. She broadcasts and lectures on Gothic, Jane Austen and her contemporaries, book history and the social history of economics.