MS. Don. e. 7, Bodleian Library, Oxford

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The manuscript takes its name from the inscription on its upper cover. It is a fair copy, written out in Jane Austen's own hand as a compilation of sixteen of her early short works in a variety of genres (stories, playlets, verses, moral fragments). Austen used a ready-made bound blank stationer’s notebook and, according to a final inscription, completed the transcription on 3 June 1793. The youthful form of the hand in its opening sections and the circumstantial detail, later recalled in conversation with her 12 year old niece Caroline (that she had begun writing far too young),1 suggest that Austen was composing the earliest pieces around the time she left the Abbey School in Reading – that is, aged 11 or 12. (She left school in 1786 and would have been 12 in December 1787). Each of the three juvenile notebooks contains internal details that date some of its pieces. These dates, together with the evidence of changes in Austen’s hand, make it clear that Volume the First contains both the earliest and the latest items collected within the three juvenile notebooks.2 Her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, included one item, the playlet ‘The Mystery’, from Volume the First in the second edition of his Memoir of Jane Austen (1871), perhaps transcribed from a copy made for him of selected extracts from various Austen holograph manuscripts.3 The manuscript was first published in 1933 in an edition uniform with his earlier transcriptions of the mature fiction manuscripts, by R. W. Chapman, and was bought for the Bodleian Library in the same year.


Jane Austen died in July 1817 and, by the terms of her will, her sister Cassandra (1773-1845) inherited her manuscripts. In compliance with the annotation to the notebook’s front pastedown,4 Volume the First went at Cassandra’s death to their youngest brother Charles (1779-1852), and it remained in his family, descending to his eldest daughter, Cassandra Esten (1808-1897), and then to Cassandra Esten’s nieces, the daughters of his son Charles John Austen. Three of these daughters – Jane, Emma Florence, and Blanche Frederica Austen – all impoverished spinsters, sold various Jane Austen manuscripts in the 1920s, though Volume the First does not appear listed among them.5 There is some uncertainty surrounding its ownership when Chapman tracked it down in November 1932 and arranged its purchase by the Friends of the Bodleian Library, for £75. The sale was completed in January 1933 but Chapman retained possession of the notebook for several months, during which time he transcribed and edited the contents for the Clarendon Press (pp. ix. 140, 5 shillings).

The notebook

The manuscript is written into a shop bought late eighteenth-century quarto stationer’s notebook impossible to date precisely. It is bound with quarter tanned sheep over boards sided with marbled paper. The edges of the leaves are plain cut and sprinkled red. The text-block comprises six quires of 16 leaves each. Quire 5, with 18 leaves, has an extra bifolium which may be a binder’s mistake. The three outermost leaves of both the first and sixth quires are used as pastedowns. The paper used is laid and of a single stock with an undated watermark and countermark (figure of Britannia and the royal cipher ‘GR’ surmounted by a crown).6

Dimensions: 204 x 161 x 20 mm. (Text-block 199 x 160 x 16 mm.)

Foliation: iv + 180 pages.

The manuscript

The manuscript is written and corrected throughout in a variety of brown iron-gall inks and with some variations in the hand. The left board has a large inscription ‘Volume the First’, in dark brown iron-gall ink. There is a pencil inscription at the head of the left pastedown ‘For my Brother Charles’ and a piece of off-white wove paper (102 x 49 mm.) pasted below this. This scrap of paper displays the annotation ‘For | my Brother Charles. | I think I recollect that | a few of the trifles in this | Vol: were written express | :ly for his amusement. | C. E. A.’ in brown iron-gall ink. An un-paginated sheet (A,Av) of cream laid machine-made paper (199 x 158 mm.) was tipped to page i after the manuscript’s arrival at the Bodleian, this in turn has a printed label tipped to it (‘Printed notices of this MS. occur in’). The label is blank apart from the shelfmark in blue-black ink and ‘= Arch. F e. 32 | (4 Feb. 1989)’ in pencil, in the hand of Dr Bruce Barker-Benfield, Bodleian Library curator. The first four pages of the manuscript, unpaginated by Jane Austen, contain: Contents list (p. i, p. ii), blank recto (p. iii), ‘To Miss Lloyd’ [Dedication] (p. iv). The roman numbering i-iv of these preliminaries is in the hand of Dr Bruce Barker-Benfield. Thereafter the manuscript is paginated in the top right (recto) or left (verso) hand corner of the page by Austen p. 1-p. 180, with the following irregularities: p. 144 was originally inscribed in error p. 143, but this was immediately corrected by overwriting; a similar overwriting (of ‘14’) occurs at p. 151; p. 167, however, has been erroneously numbered p. 177 and was only corrected (in pencil alongside the error) much later; p. 175 is not numbered.

Pagination and physical structures as they are recorded in the digital edition: front (left) board; front (left) pastedown (2 images); A, Av; p. i-p. iv; p. 1-p. 166; [p. 167]; p. 168-p. 174; [p. 175]; p. 176- p. 180; back (right) pastedown; back (right) board; spine; fore-edge.

See also the conservation report.


A Memoir of Jane Austen, ed. Kathryn Sutherland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 174. Back to context...
B. C. Southam, ‘The Manuscript of Jane Austen’s Volume the First’, The Library, 5th series, 17 (1962), 231-37. Back to context...
Hampshire Record Office, MS. 23M93/64/4/2, a volume containing miscellaneous manuscript copies of letters, poems, and short stories by Jane Austen, in several hands. (See Kathryn Sutherland, Jane Austen’s Textual Lives: From Aeschylus to Bollywood (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 202-6.) Back to context...
Chapman described the note as ‘doubtless in Jane Austen’s hand’ (Volume the First (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933), p. vii), but it is now accepted that both notes are in the hand of her sister Cassandra (see Gilson F12). Back to context...
R. W. Chapman ‘A Jane Austen Collection’, Times Literary Supplement, 14 January 1926, p. 27. Back to context...
For more information, see Andrew Honey’s detailed physical description of the construction and present state of the notebook under Conservation Reports. Back to context...