Jane Austen’s love of tea drinking will be subjected to ‘historical interrogation’ by a museum over claims this links her to the slave trade.
The celebrated author – and noted abolitionist – wrote Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park while living in a cottage in the Hampshire village of Chawton, which has now been turned into a museum.
But staff at the property devoted to the 18th century author are planning a revisionist attack on her alleged involvement in ‘Regency era colonialism’.
Austen has links to the slave trade through her father George Austen, the rector for a nearby parish who was at one point a trustee for an Antigua sugar plantation.
The museum however want to look for potential connections to slavery through her use of sugar in her tea and her wearing of cotton clothing, which experts say are all ‘products of empire’ brought back the Britain from colonies in Africa.
Lizzie Dunford, the museum’s director says these links will be highlighted with future display boards to be installed at the property.
She says this will be part of a ‘steady and considered process’ of ‘interrogation’ into her life and how slavery-linked aspects can be better displayed.
Staff at a museum devoted to 18th century author Jane Austen are now re-evaluating her place in ‘Regency era colonialism’, including her love of tea drinking. Pictured: Mia Goth and Anya Taylor-Joy star in Emma, an adaptation of her 1815 novel
Though quite secluded as a family, Austen saw tea as a ‘comforting, refreshing, recuperative beverage’ which provided reason to socialise with her neighbours, and she even wrote the drink into several of her books.
The move towards greater transparency in Austen’s slavery links comes in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the killing of unarmed black man George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.
The movement quickly spread to Britain before becoming more focused on the country’s links to slavery and historical racism.
It led to demands for the removal of statues of Cecil Rhodes and Winston Churchill and for organisations to admit if they had benefited from slavery.
Ms Dunford told The Daily Telegraph: ‘This is just the start of a steady and considered process of historical interrogation.
Austen’s links to the slave trade come through her father George Austen, the rector for a nearby parish who was at one point a trustee for an Antigua sugar plantation
‘The slave trade and the consequences of Regency era Colonialism touched every family of means during the period. Jane Austen’s family were no exception.
‘As purchasers of tea, sugar and cotton they were consumers of the products of the trade, and did also have closer links via family and friends.’
However there is also evidence of Austen’s distaste for slavery and other forms of oppression seen in her novels Mansfield Park and Emma.
Another proposed display that talks about her abolitionist views will state that ‘Black Lives Matter to Jane Austen’.
Having left her home in Southampton for the more settled life of Chawton in 1809, Austen suffered from ill health and eventually moved to Winchester in 1817 where she died a few months later.
Jane Austen Memorial Trust raised funds to buy the house in 1947, and it opened to the public two years later.
Now a museum it does not receive regular public funding and is dependent on visitors and supporters. Last year it was threatened with closure from the financial pressures of lockdown and launched an appeal to raise £75,000.
Though quite secluded as a family, Austen saw tea as a ‘comforting, refreshing, recuperative beverage’ which provided reason to socialise with her neighbours, and she even wrote the drink into several of her books. Pictured: Josh O’Connor and Tanya Reynolds in Emma
The wave of Black Lives Matter protests over the last year have led several high profile organisations behind historic properties to ‘re-evaluate’ their links to slavery and racism.
In September, The National Trust was accused of ‘wokeism’ after it published a report into 93 historic houses’ links to slavery.
And last month Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden warned UK museums they cannot allow themselves to be ‘pushed around by the zeitgeist of the day’.
Mr Dowden said the ‘principal duty’ of the nation’s cultural institutions is to ‘preserve and conserve our heritage’.
He said some institutions feel like they have been ‘bullied, particularly by left-wing campaigns’.
Having left her home in Southampton for the more settled life of Chawton (pictured, her cottage) in 1809, Austen suffered from ill health and eventually moved to Winchester in 1817 where she died a few months later
His comments are likely to be viewed as a sign that the Government intends to continue its so-called ‘war on woke’.
Speaking at the Policy Exchange UK think tank’s History Matters Conference, Mr Dowden said cultural organisations should act as ‘custodians’ of our cultural heritage and not seek to erase certain aspects of it.
Discussing his advice to museums and cultural institutions, he said: ‘Don’t allow yourself to be pushed around by the zeitgeist of the day.
‘Take a longer-term view of things, make sure you do things in a rigorous way and understand that your principal duty is to preserve and conserve our heritage.’
He added: ‘One of the things that prompted me to come into this debate in the first place was talking to some of the institutions who felt like they were being bullied, particularly by left-wing campaigns.