| A woman with over three volumes of the first editions of Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813, found hidden in a castle in Britain. (AFP)
London, Sept. 21: It’s not so much Pride and Prejudice as Pride and PG Tips.
A row has broken out over plans to market a range of “Jane Austen teas and coffees” in a move that the author’s admirers claim is an offensive exploitation of her name.
Julian Abraham, the proprietor of the Sally Lunn’s tearoom in Bath, the setting for some of Austen’s most famous works, will register a Jane Austen tea and coffee trademark tomorrow with the Patents Office.
The trademark will be the first time that the name of Austen, whose novels are famous for their depictions of genteel English country life, has been used to promote consumable products.
Abraham says that his intention is to benefit Austen fans by allowing them to sample what he claims will be distinctively 19th century-flavoured drinks.
Literary enthusiasts and academics have, however, expressed concern that the author’s image will be tarnished by the “needless commercialisation” of her name.
Maggie Lane, the honorary secretary of the Jane Austen Society of the UK, said: “It’s sheer nonsense. I think anything like this is absolutely deplorable, but, unfortunately, no one owns Jane Austen’s name. I do think it is needlessly commercial and rather ridiculous. Why on earth would anyone want to drink ‘Jane Austen’ tea and coffee'”
Abraham, whose tearoom was named the “Best in Britain” last year by British Heritage magazine, dismissed the criticism and insisted that his beverages would offer consumers an authentic taste of the past.
“We’ll probably offer three or four different Jane Austen blends which we will try to match to the 19th-century period tastes and textures,” he said.
“It’s a question of educated guessing trying to get the blend right.”
“We are very much in the preliminary stages and it will be three months before we can offer a full range. Until then, I don’t want to say more,” he added.
The Jane Austen tea is likely to be stronger in flavour than modern blends.
In early 19th-century England, most tea imports came from China and were served as a form of green tea.
Tea was generally taken after the evening meal. Milk was added and sugar from the plantations in Jamaica and Antigua may also have been used to make tea..
Coffee in the 19th century was, however, more in tune with modern palates.
The first coffee house opened in England in 1652 and by Austen’s time, roasting and crushing coffee beans was already an accepted practice.
Austen wrote six novels between 1811 and 1817.
Before her emergence as an important writer she lived in Bath between 1801 and 1806 and her knowledge of the city is reflected in two of her novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both of which are largely set in Bath.
It is a connection that continues to this day.
The Jane Austen Centre in Bath is located in Gay Street, where the author lived in 1805. Although many of Austen’s works centre on domestic life, Prof Marilyn Butler, the rector of Exeter College, Oxford, and a biographer of the author, said that references to tea and coffee drinking in her novels were rare.
Those that do exist, include a reference in Emma, published in 1815, in which some “less worthy females” are invited for tea after a male-only dinner party.
In Sanditon, the unfinished Austen manuscript discovered after her death, a central character discusses the unhealthy effects of tea and coffee at length, claiming that tea drinking would “entirely take away the use of my right side before I had swallowed it five minutes”.
Prof Butler added: “I think Jane Austen could quite easily have been very irritated by having her name trademarked. It’s a very commercial venture and Austen was always terribly sensitive about her family’s relative poverty.”
“I don’t think it will make a ha’pennyworth of difference to the writer’s reputation.”
“People who like and admire Austen will anyway read her books without thinking of the mercantile aspect.”
“In a curious way, I think it is quite good to keep the names of authors alive because we don’t want Austen to go out of print or be shunted off a syllabus.”
“I would definitely like to drink the Jane Austen range if it gave me a special early 19th-century vibe.”
Richard Knight, a descendant of Austen’s brother Edward and a trustee of Chawton House in Somerset, where his ancestor grew up, said that he would not be sampling the Austen teas. “Copyright is really very tricky and I don’t want to get into all of that, but the teas and coffees would probably be a bit commercial for my tastes,” he said.
The row over Austen’s name echoes a similar protest by the Churchill family in January over the use of a silhouette of Winston Churchill by a stairlift company.
Churchill’s Stairlifts eventually apologised to the family and removed the offending logo after Lady Soames, the only surviving child of the wartime leader, wrote to the company to complain.