Jane Austen fans prove stronger than Kelly Clarkson in ring bid - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 24 September

It is a tale of national pride and more than a little cultural prejudice. And it is testament to the enduring power of persuasion.


Jane Austen fans prove stronger than Kelly Clarkson in ring bid

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 24 September


It is a tale of national pride and more than a little cultural prejudice. And it is testament to the enduring power of persuasion.

Fans of Jane Austen have raised more than £150,000 to keep a ring belonging to the author in the country, after it was purchased at auction by the US singer Kelly Clarkson.

The ring, made from gold, with a turquoise stone, is one of the few pieces of jewellery known to have been owned and worn by Austen. After the author’s death in 1817, it was bequeathed to her sister, Cassandra. It was then passed to Jane and Cassandra’s sister-in-law, Eleanor Austen.

Jane Austen’s House Museum, in Hampshire, was unable to meet the price required by London auction house Sotheby’s when the ring came under the hammer last summer. And so Clarkson, who shot to fame after winning the first series of American Idol, paid £152,450 for it. This was more than five times as much as Sotheby’s had anticipated raising from the sale.

But it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single museum in possession of a good Austen relic must be in want of a fundraising campaign.

And so fans donated £157,740 to the museum, situated in the house where Austen wrote all six of her completed novels. This included a single pledge of £100,000 from an anonymous donor, as well as contributions from TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh and Austen fans around the world.

Under pressure to keep cultural items in Britain, meanwhile, the UK government had refused to grant Clarkson the export licence necessary to transport the ring to the US.

And so she took the cash, bobbed a polite curtsey and retreated gracefully. “The ring is a beautiful national treasure, and I am happy to know that so many Jane Austen fans will get to see it at Jane Austen’s House Museum,” she said.

It is not entirely clear whether sense has prevailed over sensibility in this case, or vice versa. Celebrity relics often inspire near-religious fervour when they appear at auction, and are met with matching offerings of cash.

For example, the dress worn by Marilyn Monroe when she sang Happy Birthday, Mr President to John F. Kennedy sold for more than $1.2 million in 1999 (£750,000 at today’s exchange rate).

This summer, a homespun linen shawl worn by Mahatma Gandhi was bought for more than £40,000. His leather sandals fetched £19,000 at the same auction.

And, on 3 October, anti-fascist scarves worn by the author George Orwell when he was shot in the neck during the Spanish Civil War will go under the hammer. They are expected to fetch up to £1,200.


Questions

1.) Who was Jane Austen? Find out five facts about her.
2.) In your opinion, does it matter if historical artefacts remain in their country of origin or not?
3.) Why might this be a tale of "cultural prejudice"?
4.) What makes something valuable? Do you think that sentimental value outweighs monetary value?


Related resources


Jane Austen

  • Introduce the celebrated author with this short presentation about her life and works.

Emma in context

  • Explore the context and background to Jane Austen’s novel with these handouts and PowerPoints.

Going, going, gone

  • Create a classroom auction and practise handling data in this practical activity.

Pride and Prejudice: Pre-reading

  • Students prepare to study the novel by completing these activities, which include optional extension tasks.

Further news resources


First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

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