Cancel culture and “woke fanatics” have come for Jane Austen.
On April 18th, The Telegraph ran a story the with the headline, “Jane Austen's tea drinking will face 'historical interrogation' over slavery links,” about the Jane Austen House Museum in England, which is dedicated to the beloved 19th century English author. The story claimed that in the wake of the black lives matter movement, the museum would be reexamining Austen’s habits such as tea drinking and wearing cotton, which connected her to the slave trade. Soon other platforms picked up on the baiting headline, with the Daily Mail calling it a “a revisionist attack," and claiming the museum had “fallen victim to 'wokeism'.” The rumor that Jane Austen was being “canceled” spread on social media.
Jane Austen is not being canceled, and the Jane Austen House Museum never implied that Jane Austen was racist for drinking tea or wearing cotton. The museum has issued a response to the unnecessary controversy, stating, “The plans for refreshing the displays and decoration of Jane Austen’s House have been misrepresented.”
The director of the museum, Lizzie Dunford had told the Telegraph they they were in the process of reviewing and updating their displays. This included “plans to explore the Empire and Regency Colonial context of both Austen’s family and her work,” she said. They also planned to better understand Austen’s abolitionist views, along with reckoning with how her father’s business profited from an Antiguan sugar plantation.
In the original article, Dunford had said, “This is just the start of a steady and considered process of historical interrogation.” While some associate the word “interrogation” with criminality, academics often use the word to describe a process of investigative research. The Telegraph placed the phrase into a misleading context, and added the connection to the black lives matter movement.
Dunford also acknowledged that every family during that time was in some way connected to, or even profited from the slave trade and Regency-era Colonalism. The museum’s statement concluded with, “We firmly believe that placing Austen in the context of her time at her home will only make her genius shine more brightly.”