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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Jane Austen’s Ring Attracts the Attention of Kelly Clarkson, An English Museum and the British Government

A gold and turquoise ring once owned by Jane Austen and purchased by Kelly Clarkson. Photo credit: Sotheby's

In July, 2012, American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson successfully bided for a gold and turquoise ring once owned by the famed novelist Jane Austen at Sotheby’s London auction. She paid dearly for the ring, spending 152,450 pounds ($235,654), approximately five times the high estimate of approximately $45,000. The sale seemed legal and binding but then the British government swooped in, suddenly declaring it a national treasure and refusing to release the ring until the Jane Austen's House museum can raise enough money to match Clarkson’s winning bid, according to the Associated Press.

The museum at Austen's former home in Chawton, southern England, said Monday it has raised 103,200 pounds ($160,000), nearly all of it from one anonymous benefactor. It has until December to raise the remaining funds, according to the AP. Clarkson has agreed to sell the ring if the museum raises the funds. The museum did try to purchase the ring at the Sotheby’s auction but lost to the singer.

The ring’s origins are somewhat mysterious, according to reports. Some Austen fans suspect it was a gift from Tom Lefroy, an Irishman who may have been romantically involved with Austen. Austen corresponded with Lefroy during the time that she wrote her most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice. Some speculate — as dramatized in the 2007 film Becoming Jane – that Lefroy was the inspiration for Austen’s most memorable character, Mr. Darcy. However, at least one literature expert, Gabriel Heaton, believes that it may have been a gift from Austen’s brother Henry, who acted as her literary agent. The ring is found in a box from a jeweler in the City of London, where Henry worked as a banker.

Austen left the ring to her sister Cassandra and it remained in the family until the auction.

Jane Austen (1775-1817) was one of the most widely read writers in English literature, as the author of several romantic novels revolving around Regency-era families of the lower English gentry. 

The British government’s heavy handling of this situation is reminiscent of this scene from the movie Pirate Radio

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