Jane Austen Scholar Discovers Lost Bonnet

by Irena Pasvinter

An exclusive interview for "Magnificent Obsession"

Dr. Charlotte Bodkins is a renowned Jane Austen scholar. She claims to have discovered the lost bonnet of the author.

MO: Please tell the readers of "Magnificent Obsession" about your sensational discovery. How did you find this precious headwear?

Dr. Bodkins: The bonnet had been in a private collection for years. It was auctioned as an early 19th century bonnet, and my husband bought it for me for my birthday. When I saw the bonnet, I was struck by its resemblance to the famous bonnet that is depicted on Jane Austen back view painting made by her sister CassanDr.a in 1804.

I began to study the bonnet in more detail. After a careful inspection, I discovered faded stitches on the inside of the bonnet. The stitches were difficult to spot, but there was no doubt about their content: Jane A. This confirmed my initial suspicion that it was not just a regular early 19th century bonnet. I researched the bonnet's ownership history. Though some of the ownership claims are controversial, I was able to confirm that the last owner of the bonnet inherited it from a descendant of Mrs. Hodges. We know that Mrs. Hodges worked as a housekeeper for Anna Austen Lefroy, Jane Austen's niece. So all clues point to it being a genuine Jane Austen's bonnet.

MO: What an exciting discovery and what a wonderful treat for Jane Austen's fans! And yet some distinguished scholars still question the authenticity of the bonnet. There are rumors that this discovery split the academic world into two parts. Should we expect Bonnet Wars?

Dr. Bodkins: Most of the scholars agree that the bonnet is genuine. There are some that delay their final judgment till we process the results of the DNA analysis of the twelve hair fragments of four different colors extracted from the inside of the bonnet. This is the next stage of our research. We use all the tools available to the modern science to investigate the bonnet.

MO: DNA analysis, this is very impressive indeed. We hope it will dispel the last doubts about the bonnet's origin. But we know this is not the only problem you are dealing with. Unfortunately, not everybody in the academic world agrees on the importance of this discovery. For example, Dr. Fitzwilliam Firth from Cambridge University called the bonnet "a warDr.obe relic of nonexistent scientific value and of questionable sentimental merit". What is your view of the bonnet's significance?

Dr. Bodkins: It is hard to underestimate the symbolic value of Jane Austen's thinking cap. Tens of leading headwear manufacturers are competing for the exclusive rights to produce replicas of the bonnet. And regarding the scientific value of the bonnet, we've only touched the tip of the iceberg of research possibilities. I've already mentioned the DNA analysis which will probably give us Jane Austen's genome. All kinds of fascinating research projects could follow from this starting point. But this is not all. A group of neuroscientists is going to analyze the influence of the bonnet's topology and texture on creative process. And I am sure this is not the last exciting research inspired by the discovery of Jane Austen's bonnet.

MO: Yes, we can't wait to hear about the results of these fascinating scientific endeavors.

It's been a while since you penned the bestselling biography "Austeniada". Are you working on a new book devoted to your research?

Dr. Bodkins: Yes, my new book is called "The Bonnet: Lost and Found or Literary Theory Out of the Closet" and it will appear in the shops by the end of the year. As you can guess from the title of the book, I am also in the process of trying to locate a wider range of warDr.obe items that have scientific potential -- from Dr.esses and ball gowns to shoes and underwear.

MO: Thank you very much for this interview. We'll be waiting for your new book and for many more exciting discoveries.

Dr. Bodkins: Thank you and my best wishes to the readers of "Magnificent Obsession".


Next week in "Magnificent Obsession": an exclusive interview with Alberta Feynman about her new masterpiece, "Quantum Poetry."

BIO: Irena Pasvinter divides her time between software engineering, endless family duties and writing poetry and fiction. Her stories and poems have appeared in numerous online magazines (Every Day Poets, Every Day Fiction, Camroc Press, "Fiction 365" and others) and in Poetry Quarterly. Irena brags about her publications at https://sites.google.com/site/ipscribblings/.