A gold and turquoise ring that belonged to Jane Austen, a Mozart among English novelists if one thinks about the dazzling perfection and brilliant invention of her prose, or perhaps a Vermeer if one considers the intense observation and painstaking description of her portrayals, is being auctioned off at Sotheby’s next week in London. The ring’s provenance seems pretty well established; this is a rare chance to buy a serious piece of real literary history.
We sometimes scoff at the medieval love of relics; preserving bits of dead saints in jewel encrusted cases strikes many people today as odd rather than moving. But as we contemplate this possession of someone whose spirit still speaks so clearly, that medieval passion seems a little easier to understand.
It’s often hoped that objects of this kind when they come up for auction will be bought by some museum somewhere and displayed to the public. In this particular case, we hope instead that it stays in private hands. Austen was a private person, and she wrote about private lives with an insight and clarity that nobody before her had ever done. Her personal possessions belong with people, not in institutions. This ring would make the most wonderful of gifts; we hope it goes to the right place.