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Missing six lines from Jane Austen letter discovered after 200 years, and are revealed to be about laundry

Professor Kathryn Sutherland, of St Anne's College at The University of Oxford, said: "We are hoping to find evidence of a love child, or some form of sexual liaison.

"But she was writing to her sister from London - part of her charm was her domesticity - Austen's was an art of the trivial, her pioneering fictions transform modest domesticity into art.

"We might wish that a new scrap of writing by Austen would contain intimate revelations, but what could be more perfect than a linen inventory."

Prof Sutherland explained that much of the writer's work was passed on through the family and eventually sold on to wealthy collectors who prized Austen's handwriting.

She said: "As Jane become more popular in the 19th century, her relative Lord Brabourne sold off a lot of her notes as fast as he could, it is likely this was one of them.

"As Caroline Spurgeon, the first woman professor in London University, wrote in 1927, 'every scrap of information and every ray of light on Jane Austen are of national importance'."

The six lines, part of letter 87, feature in an leather-bound autograph book, among over 200 notes and signatures from figures such as George Washington and Queen Victoria.

Jane Austen herself is said to have written more than 200 letters to her family.

Austen expert Hazel Jones said: "As Jane's popularity grew so did the desire to possess some of her hand written work - people gained a bit of kudos that way, especially American collectors.

"If you look at this letter, you can see the autograph is missing. So that was presumably cut and sent out to someone else.

"Her brother, Henry Thomas Austen, moved close to Covent Garden from Sloane Street following the death of his wife Eliza Hancock in 1813.

"In many of Austen's letters she appears domestic, this is not the first - you can find others where she discusses fabric and china. 

"The letters destroyed by Cassandra, I don't think we are ever likely to find those again - the bits that she cut out, they are lost."

The museum will display the note, along with a book of autographs, before it is returned to a private US collector who bought the  book at auction for £16,000 in September 2017.

After Jane Austen's death in 1817, her family is said to have destroyed some of the letters she wrote to them to avoid any potential embarrassment.

Cassandra Austen set about burning many of her sister's letters in an attempt to preserve her legacy, and cut out passages of others to prevent them leaking.

So when the last six lines of one note was recently unearthed - penned by the famed author to her Cassandra four years before her death - there were hopes it may lead to an intimate secret.

Instead, the writer simply described matters concerning her laundry.

Today a leading academic described the mention of "linen inventory" and "storeplaces" in the note as part of what made Austen's art so universally popular.

The missing lines have now gone on display at the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire, and concern the reordering of her brother George's London estate.

In the letter, dated September 15-16, 1813, Austen wrote: "By the time you get this, I hope George & his party will have finished their Journey.

"God bless you all. I have given Mde. B. my Inventory of the linen, & added 2 round towels to it by her desire.

"She has shewn me all her storeplaces, & will shew you & tell you all the same. Perhaps I may write again by Henry."

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