In Want Of Jane Austen’s Roof Tile

Author: Sheron Smith
Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2024 12:00 AM
Categories: School of Arts and Letters | Pressroom | Faculty/Staff

Macon, GA


Monica Miller was hooked from the first line of the English writer Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice – “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

“I first read it when I was a junior in high school,” said Miller, now an associate professor of English at Middle Georgia State University (MGA). “Elizabeth Bennett, the main character, is such a resonant character. Her impatience with the strictures of Georgian-era gender and class expectations were compelling to read. The sibling rivalries, embarrassing parents, and just flat-out engaging writing have drawn me back to read and re-read in the decades since. When the BBC series was first released on VHS in 1998, my friends and I stayed up until four in the morning, watching all six hours in one evening.”

So it should come as no surprise to anyone who knows Miller that she jumped on a chance to own a roof tile from Austen’s house in Hampshire, England, where the writer spent the last eight years before her death in 1817. But more about the tile in a minute.

According to her Britannica bio, Austen is credited with giving the novel its distinctly modern character through her treatment of ordinary people in everyday life. She published four novels during her lifetime: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815). In these and in Persuasion and Northanger Abbey (published together posthumously), “she vividly depicted English middle-class life during the early 19th century.”

In the modern era, Austen’s work has been adapted numerous times on film and television, including the critically acclaimed Sense and Sensibility directed by Ang Lee and starring Emma Thompson, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Elinor Dashwood.

Miller’s love of literature led her to a career in academia. She holds a Ph.D in English literature from Louisianna State University and began teaching at MGA in 2017. Among other publications, she edited or co-edited the recent books, The Tacky South, a collection of essays that examines the connections between “tackiness” and the American South, and Dear Regina: Flannery O'Connor's Letters from Iowa, a volume of pre-fame letters the Georgia-born author wrote to her mother while at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

At MGA, Miller is developing a bit of a reputation for her collection of unique memorabilia. Some years ago, at the height of Downton Abbey TV show popularity, Miller was among the fans that “live tweeted” commentary about each episode of the PBS series. When the show came to an end, she received a message from PBS asking for an address where they could send her a thank-you gift. She eventually received a beautiful show poster signed by several actors from the series.

Ok, back to the tile. A few months ago, Miller read online that the Jane Austen house was raising money to restore the roof. The house is now a museum, open to the public, and among the fundraisers was a chance for Austen fans to buy roof tiles that had fallen off outbuildings around the property.

“I've never been to Hampshire, and I don't know that I ever will make it out to visit Austen's house there,” Miller said. “The amount they were asking was affordable, and the thought of having a piece of this history was very appealing to me - especially knowing that this is likely the closest that I'll get to visiting. So, I sent in my donation, and I received the roof tile and certificate of authenticity, which says that this tile is one of 200 that were used for this fundraiser.”

Today, Miller displays the tile and certificate over her workspace where she can see it when she looks up from her own writing.

“I like thinking that Austen herself might have glanced at the tile while on one of the walks that she so loved to take,” Miller said. “​And I think that 16-year-old Monica would especially appreciate that my love for Jane Austen has not only remained but grown stronger since I first read her work.”