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Historians are spilling the tea over Jane Austen’s connections with slave plantations.
A museum dedicated to the “Pride & Prejudice” author, located at her old home in the Hampshire village of Chawton, is reportedly investigating the Austen family’s place in “Regency era colonialism,” as evidenced by Austen’s love of tea, clothing and other refinements.
Before father George Austen was a clergyman of a local parish, he was a trustee of an Antigua sugar plantation, where slaves from Africa worked the fields to cultivate the prized ingredient that would be part of the Austens’ tea habit.
Introduced to the West by way of China, tea became an English obsession by the early 19th century, particularly once they learned how to grow crops of their own throughout territories in India, Sri Lanka and Africa.
Austen’s penchant for cotton clothing — more “products of empire” — is also said to be a sign of her family’s connection to plantations in the Caribbean.
The director of Jane Austen’s House museum, Lizzie Dunford, told the Telegraph that they intend to spotlight this little-discussed aspect of Austen’s personal story.
“This is just the start of a steady and considered process of historical interrogation,” said Dunford.
Since the Black Lives Matter movement erupted globally, such “interrogation” has already put other British historical figures on blast, including former Prime Ministers Cecil Rhodes and Winston Churchill, whose statues were recently removed due to revelations that their families had benefited from slavery.
“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,” Dunford continued. “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.”
Despite Jane’s love of contemporary fashion and brews, scholars say her work in “Mansfield Park” and “Emma” bears evidence of her distaste for slavery. In light of this, curators are also planning a display dubbed “Black Lives Matter to Jane Austen,” to highlight her abolitionist references.
“Jane Austen belonged to that progressive group in society from which came the anti-slavery campaigners William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson,” the museum literature reads, according to the Telegraph. “She reveals her social conscience in her reading and her writing.”
Added Dunford, “We believe that this is hugely important work and are looking forward to sharing this over the next few years.”
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