A previously unseen letter which features Jane Austen’s first mention of her upcoming novel Pride And Prejudice has gone on public display in the UK.
The double folded sheet, sent by Austen to her sister Cassandra in January 1799, makes reference to the classic which had not yet been published.
It lay undiscovered in a box file for 60 years, along with thousands of other letters and autographs which were bequeathed to Torquay Museum in Devon.
The museum is planning to sell the letter, which it believes could fetch STG200,000 ($A365,063) at auction, and has put it on public display to give fans a last chance to view it.
Barry Chandler, curator of collections at Torquay Museum, said money raised from the sale would create an endowment fund to secure the museum’s future.
“This is probably the finest surviving example of correspondence from the novelist to her sister, and was acquired by Hester Pengelly, daughter of one of the founders of Torquay Museum, William Pengelly,” Mr Chandler said.
The letter was given to the museum in the 1930s by Mrs Pengelly as part of her collection of around 3500 autographs and letters, including ones from Charlotte Bronte, John Keats and Abraham Lincoln.
It was forgotten about for decades until 1989, when a female member of staff at the museum began examining a collection of box files in the archives and discovered it.
In the letter, Austen writes of her upcoming novel First Impressions, later renamed and published as Pride And Prejudice in 1813.
The book later became one of the most popular novels in English literature, selling more than 20 million copies worldwide.
“I do not wonder at your wanting to read first impressions again, so seldom as you have gone through it, & that so long ago,” she wrote to Cassandra.
The author, then aged 24, also congratulates her younger sister on her birthday, writing: “I wish you joy of your Birthday twenty times over”.