Jane Austen charity dismisses claims it will re-evaluate the author's colonial roots

Newspapers had reported that, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, Jane Austen's House was investigating her links to the slave trade, but the charity says this is not the case

Jane Austen's House (Photograph: Jane Austen's House)
Jane Austen's House (Photograph: Jane Austen's House)

A charity devoted to the author Jane Austen has dismissed reports of an interrogation of her alleged links to the slave trade as a “misrepresentation”.

Reports in several newspapers this week alleged that Jane Austen’s House in Hampshire would re-evaluate her colonial roots, due to her father's plantation, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests.

But in response, the charity said: “The plans for refreshing the displays and decoration of Jane Austen’s House have been misrepresented.” It said it had been planning to update its displays for several years.

Jane Austen lived during the era of slavery and the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in 1807.

According to academics, Austen’s father George became a trustee of a 294-acre plantation with slaves in Antigua in 1760.

But this information was already “widely accessible in the public domain”, the charity said.

In a statement on its website, the charity said it was increasingly asked questions by visitors on this issue and it was therefore appropriate that it shared the information and existing research on her connections to slavery and its mention in her novels.

“We would like to offer reassurance that we will not, and have never had any intention to, interrogate Jane Austen, her characters or her readers for drinking tea.

“We have been planning to refresh our displays and decoration at Jane Austen’s House for several years.

“The overarching aim of this long-term process is to bring Jane Austen’s brilliance and the extraordinary flourishing of creativity she experienced at the house to the heart of every visit,” said the charity.

The charity said the refreshed displays would be nuanced, based on peer-reviewed research and in the author’s own words.

Jane Austen’s House is the latest charity to come under fire for their work in what the think tank the Runnymede Trust described earlier this week as a “worrying trend”.

The trust was forced to defend its own work from a group of Conservative MPs after it criticised the recent controversial Sewell Report.

The race equality charity accused the MPs of “weaponising” the charity regulator in a “politically motivated” attack.

The recent spate of criticism prompted a group of more than 60 charity leaders to put out a statement backing charities’ right to campaign after another group of Conservative MPs called for the government to stop the “worthless work” of organisations “promulgating weird, woke ideas”.

The National Trust has been under fire since last year after it published a report researching its properties’ links to slavery, despite the Charity Commission receiving just three complaints about the charity’s work or purpose.

In addition, children’s charity Barnardo's had to defend itself from a group of Conservative MPs in December who dismissed the charity’s attempt to talk about white privilege as “ideological dogma” used “by certain multinational corporates as a means to divide and conquer”.

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