Who is Sandy Lerner?

A woman, especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can. -Northanger Abbey With the publication of Second Impressions, many people are again wondering just who Sandy Lerner (aka Ava Farmer) is and why English women’s literature is so indebted to an American millionaire. Sandy Lerner is the kind of woman whom Jane Austen would have appreciated. Unwilling to sit by and let her mind rust while be provided for by relatives, Sandy graduated high school and college at an early age and by the time she was 31, had co-founded Cisco Systems with her then-husband, Leonard Bostock. Originally working out of their own home, the company gained financial backers in 1987 and today Cisco Systems remains a cutting edge multimillion dollar networking and development company. After leaving Cisco under the management of a new board of directors, the Bostock’s found themselves, again, in need of new intellectual challenges, this time, however, with millions of dollars to spend. This was a remarkable change for Sandy, who had grown up under the care of two aunts—one who worked a farm in the hills of California, and the other who lived a glamorous Hollywood style life. It was her time on the farm, that gave Sandy her lifelong passion for animals and her first taste of financial security (her registered herd of 200 cattle paid her way to college) and it was her life in the city which inspired her next venture. With Cisco being managed by others (the Bostocks had been practically forced out by the new board by this point) Sandy took her passion for cosmetics to the next level by starting Urban Decay Cosmetics in the early 1990’s. Tired of the monochromatic pink and red hues offered by most retailers, she and a few friends patented gritty, city inspired colors, with names like Smog, Rust, Oil Slick and Acid Rain. Much like Dolly  Levi, in Hello Dolly, however, Ms. Lerner was never one to simply let her money rest. She preferred to spread it around, philanthropically, for the benefit not a few. The purchase of her Ayrshire Farm in Virginia allowed her to once again practice full time farming, but her passion for Jane Austen has led to ventures across the sea. In 1987, she purchased a 125 year lease on Chawton Great House and the surrounding lands. Chawton Great House was the home of Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Knight, and it was his residence there, that made it possible for Jane, her mother and her sister Cassandra to settle at Chawton Cottage during the last years of Jane’s life. All of Jane Austen’s novels were either written or edited for publication from this home, just a short walk down the lane from the Great House. In July 2003, after a ten year renovation and restoration project, the Great House was finally able to open it’s doors as the Chawton House Library. Today the library boasts an outstanding collection of over 9,000 books, highlighting English women writers from 1600 to 1830. Most of these were gathered and donated by Sandy prior to the library’s opening. In reading these old manuscripts, Lerne says, "All of a sudden, Jane Austen made a whole lot more sense. It wasn't like she'd dropped in from outer space with six of the best novels in the English language and left. You could see her in the context of things she'd read." The library’s Novels On Line project makes the full text of many of their works freely available to the public. Also housed at the Chawton House Library is the Knight Collection, a private collection of the Knight family’s books. These works were once owned by Jane Austen’s brother, Edward, and it is known that she enjoyed reading through his library. Most gratifying to Austen lovers and scholars is the ability to not only discover and read previously unknown works, or even to study in the atmosphere of a house Austen intimately knew, it is in the making fresh and new and available to all another facet of “our Jane.” One testament to Lerner’s love and devotion to Austen is her recent novel, Second Impressions. Part sequel to Pride and Prejudice, part Regency primer, it is a labor of love, 23 years in the writing. Ever generous with her time and funds, Sandy has designated the proceeds from the sale of Second Impressions to the ongoing work of the Chawton House Library.  
  Laura Boyle runs Austentation: Regency Accessories. Her book, Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, is available from the Jane Austen Centre Giftshop. Visit Austentation for a large range of custom made hats, bonnets, reticules and Jane Austen related items.  

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