Jane Austen’s Annotated Copy of ‘Curiosities of Literature’ Is For Sale

The novelist used a pencil to underline roughly 15 passages from the text by Isaac D’Israeli

White gloved hand holding up an old book
Jane Austen's signature is on the title page of the book. Sotheby's

Because Jane Austen had no formal education, she became a voracious reader of the books in her father’s library. Nobody knows what became of these texts—with a few exceptions. Now, one of those exceptions could sell for as much as $150,000 at auction.

Bidding is open for Austen’s personal copy of Isaac D’Israeli’s Curiosities of Literature. The book bears Austen’s signature on the title page and has pencil marks highlighting roughly 15 sections of text.

The volume has been privately owned since the 1940s. The Sotheby’s auction, which runs through December 8, marks the first time the book has become publicly available.

First published in 1791, Curiosities of Literature is a collection of “anecdotes about historical persons and events, unusual books and the habits of book collectors,” as Fine Books & Collections puts it.

White gloved hand holding up brown book
The copy is one of roughly 20 of Austen's books known to exist. Sotheby's

Austen likely drew inspiration from the book for her own writings. Several of the marked-up sections—such as “On the Fair-Sex Having No Soul,” “On the Adjective ‘Pretty’” and “English Ladies”—seem to “correlate to Austen’s literary preoccupations,” writes Barron’s Eric Grossman.

As a result, the copy “sheds light on the author’s preoccupations as a reader as well as her process as a writer,” says Kalika Sands, Sotheby’s international specialist in books and manuscripts, in a statement.

Only around 20 titles from Austen’s personal collection are known to exist today, which makes the sale “incredibly special,” she adds.

White gloved hand holding open an old book
Austen likely drew inspiration from the marked-up sections of the book. Sotheby's

This particular copy of Curiosities of Literature still has its original publisher’s cloth, though it has suffered some wear and water damage over the years.

Born in 1775 in Hampshire, England, Austen spent much of her childhood reading—both quietly to herself and aloud to her large family. She discovered her love of writing as early as age 12, when she began crafting poems and parodies.

She often marked up books while reading them, and similar annotations appear in other volumes. One of these is Camilla: or, A Picture of Youth by Frances Burney, which is part of the Bodleian Library’s collections at the University of Oxford, per Sotheby’s. Austen also underlined sections of her copy of Self-Control by Mary Brunton, which is housed at the Knight Collection in Alton, England.

“Austen has the magical ability to interest a lot of different readers for different reasons,” said Juliette Wells, a literary scholar at Goucher College, to Smithsonian magazine’s Lila Thulin in 2022. “Her novels have humor, yet also real moral seriousness. Her characters are marvelously recognizable to readers around the world in spite of having been created more than 200 years ago by an Englishwoman.”

Earlier this year, the estate where Austen was born hit the market. The novelist thrived in the countryside home in Hampshire, England, where she honed her interests as both a reader and writer. It’s also where she drafted several of her most famous novels, including Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility.

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