“There are places in town, offices, where inquiry would soon produce something – offices for the sale, not quite of human flesh, but of human intellect”, to which Mrs Elton replies with, “Oh! my dear, human flesh! You quite shock me; if you mean a fling at the slave trade, I assure you Mr. Suckling was always rather a friend to the abolition.”
Passages like the one above, from Jane Austen’s novel Emma, would seem to suggest Austen herself was in favor of the abolitionists. However, as anyone who doesn’t live under a tea cozy would know, controversy was stirred up recently at the Jane Austen House Museum, a cottage in Chawton, Hampshire where the author once lived and wrote. This happened after the museum announced it planned to update some of its exhibits and to focus more on “Empire and Regency Colonial context”–which many read as “slavery.” George Austen, Jane’s father, was at one time trustee of a sugar plantation in Antigua, though there is no evidence that Jane herself directly benefited from his employment.
Jane clearly relished a good cup of tea (itself grown on plantations) which she perhaps took with sugar. However, she did admire authors of her day, such as Cowper and Clarkson, who advocated against slavery. Austen herself, of course, skirted direct political issues preferring to stick to such universal truths as the one about all single rich men being in need of wives. What is one advantage Charlotte Bronte will always have over Austen? muses Jane Eyre, the lead character in Jane Eyre Gets Real by Annabelle Troy. Why, the Brontes of Haworth, Yorkshire were so poor nobody could ever accuse them of benefiting from any trade, slave or otherwise.