Kelly Clarkson, the very first winner of American Idol, bought a ring previously owned by Jane Austen at an auction. She paid about $235,700, according to press reports. But there is a very real possibility that Clarkson – a bona fide Austen fan who owns a first edition of "Persuasion" – will never take actual possession of her new treasure. British Minister of Culture, Ed Vaizey, has delayed its export.
Louise West, curator of The Austen House Museum in Chawton, told the Independent that Jane Austen artifacts are rare and many British Austen-lovers feel that it would be a shame for the gold-and-topaz item to leave the country. One of only three pieces of Austen's jewelry known to exist, the ring passed from Austen to her sister Cassandra, who later gave it to a future sister-in-law. The ring had remained in the Austen family till the sale to Clarkson.
The Guardian says that The Austen House Museum had talked to the owners of the ring before the auction took place but that their 30,000 euro bid wasn’t enough to win the prize.
So West began a fundraising drive, hoping to keep the ring in the UK. Thanks to a recently received anonymous $155,000 (100,000 euros) donation, the museum is now much closer to being able to meet the price paid by Clarkson. According to the Independent, Clarkson has said that she is willing to sell the ring to a British buyer if that buyer can offer an amount equal to what she paid.
The Austen House Museum has expressed much enthusiasm at the idea of adding Austen's ring to their collection. The Independent reports that they already have a turquoise bracelet and a topaz cross that belonged to the writer. The addition of the ring would be in time to celebrate the bicentennial celebration of the publication of “Mansfield Park” that is to take place next year.
At the same time, West is also happy to admit that recent publicity generated by the ring is all to the good. "We were very excited that someone like Kelly Clarkson was a fan of Jane Austen," she told the press. "It's not what you'd expect from a young, cool U.S. pop singer. It says a lot about Austen's popularity and who she's popular with. It's not just middle-aged women."
Surrendering the item might not be all bad for Clarkson, either. She is reported to have a replica of the ring that fiancé Brandon Blackstock gave her, in addition to an open invitation from the museum to visit the real thing any time that she likes.
And who knows – maybe there's a really cool song somewhere in all this, too.
Casey Lee is a Monitor contributor.