I was kind of avoiding this because I thought it might’ve been a bad case of necrolink, but apparently it’s true: Anne Sharp’s presentation copy of Jane Austen’s Emma is indeed for sale…again. It last sold at auction in April, 2010 for the then pounds sterling-equivalent of $271,294.
The set of three volumes is one of twelve special first edition copies – “presentation” copies as they’re called – reserved for Austen’s family, friends, and her highest-profile fan of the period, the Prince Regent (care of his royal librarian, James Stanier Clarke). Anne Sharp is often noted as the only “friend” among the bunch of recipients. Miss Sharp had served as governess to Austen’s beloved niece, Fanny Knight, and by most accounts is the logical model for the Woodhouse girls’ dear former governess, Mrs. Weston, in Emma.
Anne Sharp (1776-1853) “Anne Sharp” in vol. 1 and “A. Sharp” in vol. 2 and 3
Gilson A8; Keynes 8; Sadleir 62d
One of twelve presentation copies recorded in the publisherâ€™s archives and presented to Jane Austenâ€™s â€œexcellent kind friendâ€: the only presentation copy given to a personal friend of the author.
In a letter to the publisher John Murray dated 11 December 1815, Austen noted that she would â€œsubjoin a list of those persons, to whom I must trouble you to forward a Set each, when the Work is out; – all unbound, with From the Authoress, in the first pageâ€. Most of these copies were for members of Austenâ€™s family. David Gilson in his bibliography of Austen lists these presentation copies, based on information in John Murrayâ€™s records, as follows:
- two to Hans Place, London (presumably for Jane Austen and Henry Austen)
- Countess of Morley
- Rev. J.S. Clarke (the Prince Regentâ€™s librarian)
- J. Leigh Perrot (the authorâ€™s uncle)
- two for Mrs Austen
- Captain Austen (presumed to be Charles Austen)
- Rev. J. Austen
- H.F. Austen (presumed to be Francis)
- Miss Knight (the authorâ€™s favourite niece Fanny Knight)
- Miss Sharpe [sic]
Anne Sharp (1776-1853) was Fanny-Catherine Knightâ€™s governess at Godmersham in Kent from 1804 to 1806. She resigned due to ill-health and then held a number of subsequent positions as governess and ladyâ€™s companion. Deirdre Le Faye notes that by 1823 she was running her own boarding-school for girls in Liverpool (see Jane Austenâ€™s Letters, third edition, 1995, p. 572). She retired in 1841 and died in 1853.
In 1809 Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra Austen that “Miss Sharpeâ€¦ is born, poor thing! to struggle with Evil…” Four years later Jane wrote to Cassandra that “…I have more of such sweet flattery from Miss Sharp! â€“ She is an excellent kind friend” (which may refer to Anne Sharpâ€™s opinion of Pride and Prejudice). It is known that Anne Sharp thought Mansfield Park “excellent” but she preferred Pride and Prejudice and rated Emma “between the two” (see Jane Austenâ€™s Letters, third edition, 1995, p. 573).
There is one known extant letter from Jane Austen to Anne Sharp, dated 22 May 1817. She is addressed as “my dearest Anne”. After Jane Austenâ€™s death, Cassandra Austen wrote to Anne Sharp on 28 July 1817 sending a “lock of hair you wish for, and I add a pair of clasps which she sometimes wore and a small bodkin which she had had in constant use for more than twenty years”.
â€œIn Miss Sharp she found a truly compatible spiritâ€¦ Jane took to her at once, and formed a lasting relationship with herâ€¦ [she occupied] a unique position as the necessary, intelligent friendâ€ (Claire Tomalin, Jane Austen A Life, 2000).
Anne Sharp is known to have visited Chawton on at least two occasions: in June 1815 and in August-September 1820. Deirdre Le Faye notes that James-Edward Austen-Leigh described her as “horridly affected but rather amusing” (see Jane Austen’s Letters, third edition, 1995, p.573)
For more on Anne Sharp’s copy of Emma: