JANE AUSTEN’S FAMILY SCANDAL. I, and others, have thought of Jane Austen as a proper lady from a proper family. So I was startled while reading Peter J. Conradi’s review in the May 1 TLS of Paula Byrne’s THE REAL JANE AUSTEN to learn that one of Jane’s aunts was arrested in Bath for “shoplifting a card of expensive white lace worth 20 shillings” (68 pounds today). The penalty for the crime was either hanging or transportation to Australia. She was jailed for seven months but acquitted at trial. This event must have had a huge impact on Jane and her family. The aunt’s husband was the brother of Jane’s mother and Jane first came to Bath on a visit to this aunt and uncle. This essay by Jane Austen-Leigh, a descendant of Jane’s oldest brother, mentions the shoplifting trial in a short paragraph and says that it was attended by a thousand people. Jane and her family stayed loyal to the aunt throughout.
The acquittal took only 15 minutes and is attributed to the aunt’s defense that she was too wealthy to have a motive to steal.