Book Review: “The Jane Austen Society” by Natalie Jenner

Are you a maker of Lists? Do you keep a List of books to read, lists of books read, movies to watch, TV shows not to be missed, lists of gifts, grocery lists, house to-do lists, a master To-Do List? Do you have a List of Lists? Or, as one friend asked me years ago, do you ever add something to your To-Do list already done so you can cross it off? (I said absolutely NO!). But I do love lists – they organize a life, give a sense of control (false though that may be), especially in these troubled times. And so I find that instead of writing a more traditional book review of The Jane Austen Society, that I’d make a List, a very important list of at-least TEN reasons you should read this book – one reason alone is enough; ten means you should buy it immediately and jump right into its world.

1. The Characters: Real and True

The author Natalie Jenner has said she had no outline for this tale, envisioned about eight characters, half male and half female, and essentially let them run amok.* We can only be glad she did! As one of her more Willoughby-like characters says of this rag-tag motley crew of folk all bent on forming a Jane Austen society: they were “a band of misfits with negligible expertise and no head for business: a country doctor, an old maid, a schoolmarm, a bachelor farmer, a fey auctioneer, a conflict-averse solicitor, a scullery maid, and one Hollywood movie star.” [276] – a “band of misfits” indeed. They are all from different backgrounds and histories, all part of the small rural community of Chawton, all with tragedy, pain and grief permeating and controlling their lives. Yet each is fully-drawn – you like, even love, these people.

2. The Plot: So Inventive

This is fiction (more on this below) – and not even historical fiction – it has nothing to do with the Real Jane Austen Society formed in the 1940s, same as our fictional group – so don’t confuse them. Let this story tell itself, as it brilliantly does: how this unlikely cast of characters discover a commonality in Jane Austen of all people, and strive to honor her in some way – they do live in Chawton after all… And in so doing, each finds Hope and Love and and Self-Knowledge. And as the tale of each unfolds and their lives become inexorably intertwined, we have mysteries and secrets, stories of war and deaths, disagreements among neighbors, gossipy goings-on, and Love and Romance. What is there not to like? Jane Austen has given them a purpose, a sense of hope and a road map into an understanding of the heart. You find fast friends over Jane Austen, as many of us have found in our own lives.

3. The Setting: Chawton, of course

Chawton House

Not everyone living in this fictional Chawton reads or even likes Jane Austen. Some resent the weird travelers looking for sites associated with her. Even the family heir confesses a preference for the Brontës (especially Villette – pay attention here). But the setting is one we all are very familiar with, if we know a bit about Austen’s life after 1809. Living in Chawton Cottage (now Jane Austen’s House ) and trekking to her brother Edward’s Great House (now Chawton House), Jane Austen walked these walks, sat in these chairs, read in this library, all so beautifully and authentically described by  Jenner. You are in this world in the 1940s, right along with the characters.

Jane Austen’s House

4. The Library [not as “In the Library with Colonel Mustard and the lead pipe”…but a Real Library]

One of my favorite parts of the book (the librarian-bookseller in me). Jenner confesses to a wee mistake about the location of the library at Chawton, but literary license allows just about anything, so she is heartily forgiven. Because she gives us Evie, the aforementioned scullery maid, who at 16 (and without giving too much away) has been secretly cataloguing the entire library in the Great House for the past two years and therefore is more knowledgeable about what’s there, what it’s all worth (and with the added bit of a FOUND letter by Austen, of which I shall say no more…), than anyone else in the family (who have ignored the library for generations) or anyone else in town. Evie is a delightful character – we would like to recruit her for our Reading with Austen / Godmersham Lost Sheep Society project!**

Reading Room at Chawton House

5. Jane Austen in Plain Sight:

One of the pure joys of this book is the light-hearted yet insightful analysis of Austen and her novels: characters actively discussing all the works in their general conversation with each other. Farmer Adam, on first reading Pride and Prejudice considers that “he was becoming quite worried about Mr. Darcy.” [10] The town doctor and the local schoolteacher have a lively chat about Emma: the teacher dislikes Emma, the doctor adores her – they wrangle over Mr. Knightley’s true feelings as Austen drops her clues. [I was delighted to find a new-to-me hint to add to my ever-growing List of Clues that Mr. Knightley is very much in Love.]

Then there are the almost direct correlations between characters – you’ll certainly find a Willoughby or Henry Crawford or a William Elliot in these pages, several of Austen’s couples, maybe even a Mr. Rushworth and a Mrs. Elton – there’s even a Dog! – the fun is finding them and going “aah…” Here’s a standout: one of the characters says “within the pages of Mansfield Park was the playbook for making a good woman fall for a cad.” [151] How true that is – and I never looked at Crawford’s behavior in such a light before…

And then the direct quotes in different contexts, which leads us to…

6. Jane Austen Is Not for “Dull Elves”:

The Austen discussion and character correlations are more straightforward than the many allusions scattered throughout, multiple readings likely needed to flesh them all out. Austen was a master of the allusion herself and again, it’s great fun to find these little crumbs:

“You have borne it as no other woman in England would have…” [295]

“I probably would’ve cut him a lock of my own hair if he’d asked for it.” [188]…

Sense & Sensibility – CE Brock – Molland’s

So many – don’t want to inhibit your “sharp-elves” detective skills, so that’s all I shall share…which leads us to another no-spoilers here item on our list…

7. The Mystery(ies) wherein lies a will and an heir just like an Austen plot

….and shall just say there are secrets and mysteries in abundance. So much under the surface, so much history Jenner gradually allows the reader to see, like the proverbial peeling away of an onion – layers of stories to reveal truths… and again, not unlike Austen, Jenner feeds us more and more of each character and their motivations, and we care largely because of ….

8. The Romance: There’s A Lot of It!

So we have eight major characters, and a house full of minors (some of whom, like in Austen, have a lot to say, and a lot to do to move the plot along). Part of the fun (and mystery) is who will end up with whom? Even one of the characters falls asleep one night musing on and making mental lists of possible couplings. Evie at 16 is perhaps the most perceptive at seeing what the heck is going on. It’s all quite endearing – but no spoilers here (though can I say there is a Wentworth-like letter??)

9. It’s Fiction!

Ok, have to repeat this – this is pure fiction, not even great literature (though it is very well written), not based on the real Jane Austen Society as I’ve said (and that real story is compelling it is own right – you can read about it here.)

But even if you are not an avid reader of fiction, but you like Jane Austen, you will get much out of your few hours of time invested. And even if you don’t know squat about Jane Austen, you’ll love this book (you can also listen to it – spending several hours with Richard Armitage is top on my Must-Do list] – because of the humor, the grace, and the romance, and because…

10. We Need This Right Now:

This is a Feel Good book – and goodness, we need that right now more than anything – pick it up and wander back into a simpler (though in so many ways harder) time, to a place ravaged by war, when loss and grief were the bywords of the day, and live for a bit with this delightful “band of misfits” as they each find their way to a better future, all with thanks to Jane Austen, a lesson for us all, especially now…

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* You can hear Natalie Jenner’s May 15, 2020 talk for the Chawton House Literary Festival on Youtube here:

Also read her interview with Rachel Dodge at the Jane Austen’s Regency World blog here.

** For a real-life cataloguing project concerning Edward Austen’s libraries at his Godmersham and Chawton estates, please visit the Reading with Austen website and the Reading with Austen blog. Under the direction of Professor Peter Sabor, the hope is to locate (and return if possible) as many of the books that were originally in the Knight library during Jane Austen’s time. We need Evie on this project!

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About the author:

Natalie Jenner is the debut author of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in English Literature and Law and has worked for decades in the legal industry. She recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | GOODREADS

  • Twitter handles: @NatalieMJenner, @StMartinsPress @MacmillanAudio
  • Hashtags: #TheJaneAustenSociety #HistoricalFiction, #AudioBooks, #AmReading, #JaneAusten #RichardArmitage

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About the Book:

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

Book details: Genre: Historical Fiction, Austenesque Fiction

The Jane Austen Society: A Novel, by Natalie Jenner
St. Martin’s Press (May 26, 2020)
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1250248732
eBook ASIN: B07WQPPXFW
Audiobook ASIN: B082VL7VRR

Blog Tour Dates: May 25 – June 30, 2020 – you can read more about the blog tour and the schedule here and here at Austenprose.

You can buy the book at all the usual suspects – but start with your local bookstore!

Indiebound / Amazon / Barnes and Noble / Book Depository / BookBub / Audible

©2020 Jane Austen in Vermont

Blog Tour Shout-Out! “The Jane Austen Society” by Natalie Jenner

Hello there Gentle Readers: I welcome you to join in on the virtual online book tour of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, Natalie Jenner’s highly acclaimed debut novel May 25 through June 30, 2020. Seventy-five popular blogs and websites specializing in historical fiction, historical romance, women’s fiction, and Austenesque fiction will feature interviews and reviews of this post-WWII novel set in Chawton, England. All is sponsored and coordinated by Laurel Ann at Austenprose. The pandemic has limited the author from engaging in the usual real-life book talks and marketing tours, so we are going all out to be sure that this book gets a full-court press in our now largely virtual world. Please enjoy all the chat, then get thee to a bookstore and add it to your TBR pile (on top!) – you will not be disappointed…

My review will go live tomorrow but wanted to list here all the blog tour sites that over the next month will be offering reviews and interviews of this delightful tale:

 

About the Book:

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

************* 

Book details:

Genre: Historical Fiction, Austenesque Fiction

The Jane Austen Society: A Novel, by Natalie Jenner
St. Martin’s Press (May 26, 2020)
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1250248732
eBook ASIN: B07WQPPXFW
Audiobook ASIN: B082VL7VRR

Blog Tour Dates: May 25 – June 30, 2020 [see below]

****************

About the author:

Natalie Jenner is the debut author of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in English Literature and Law and has worked for decades in the legal industry. She recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | GOODREADS

Accolades:

  • An Amazon Best Book of May 2020
  • One of Goodreads Big Books of Spring & Hot Books of Summer
  • One of Audible’s Top 50 Most Anticipated Spring Audiobooks
  • June 2020 Indie Next Pick
  • May 2020 Library Reads Pick
  • Starred Review – Library Journal
  • Starred Review – Booklist 

Audiobook Narrated By Actor Richard Armitage (!!):

The full unabridged text of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY was read by the distinguished English film, television, theatre and voice actor Richard Armitage for the audiobook recording. Best known by many period drama fans for his outstanding performance as John Thornton in the BBC television adaptation of North and South (2004), Armitage also portrayed Thorin Oakenshield in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy adaptation of The Hobbit (2012 – 2014).

Link to YouTube audiobook excerpt: https://youtu.be/OJ1ACJluRi8 

Spotify Playlist:

Spotify users can access a playlist for THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY at the following link: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5Q1Vl17qyQQIvvPGeIPCkr?si=-iMhVz8uRk2v2mTdolrPdg. The playlist includes music from various film adaptions of Jane Austen’s books, as well as film scores by such incomparable artists as Hans Zimmer, Ennio Morricone, Rachel Portman, and Michael Nyman. 

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BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE:
[I’ll add live links once the post is active]

  • May 25        Jane Austen’s World
  • May 25        Austenprose—A Jane Austen Blog
  • May 26        Frolic Media
  • May 26        A Bookish Affair
  • May 26        Courtney Reads Romance
  • May 26        Margie’s Must Reads
  • May 26        The Reading Frenzy
  • May 27        Book Confessions of an Ex-Ballerina
  • May 27        Gwendalyn’s Books
  • May 27        Romantically Inclined Reviews
  • May 28        Getting Your Read On
  • May 28        Living Read Girl
  • May 28        The Lit Bitch
  • May 29        History Lizzie
  • May 29        Silver Petticoat Reviews
  • May 30        Cup of Tea with that Book, Please
  • May 30        Historical Fiction Reader
  • May 31        Jane Austen in Vermont
  • June 01        From Pemberley to Milton
  • June 01        My Jane Austen Book Club
  • June 01        AustenBlog
  • June 02        Lu’s Reviews
  • June 02        The Green Mockingbird
  • June 03        The Interests of a Jane Austen Girl
  • June 03        Relz Reviews
  • June 03        Impressions in Ink
  • June 04        The Caffeinated Bibliophile
  • June 04        Life of Literature
  • June 04        Laura’s Reviews
  • June 05        Reading Ladies Book Club
  • June 05        Bookish Rantings
  • June 06        From the TBR Pile
  • June 07        Rachel Dodge
  • June 07        An Historian About Town
  • June 08        Bringing up Books
  • June 08        Austenesque Reviews
  • June 09        Captivated Reading
  • June 09        Savvy Verse and Witt
  • June 10        Lady with a Quill
  • June 10        Drunk Austen
  • June 11        Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell
  • June 11        Inkwell Inspirations
  • June 12        Nurse Bookie
  • June 12        A Bookish Way of Life
  • June 13        Calico Critic
  • June 14        Jane Austen’s World
  • June 15        Stuck in a Book
  • June 15        Storybook Reviews
  • June 15        Confessions of a Book Addict
  • June 16        Literary Quicksand
  • June 16        Becky on Books
  • June 17        The Reading Frenzy
  • June 17        Anita Loves Books
  • June 18        Chicks, Rogues, & Scandals
  • June 18        The Write Review
  • June 19        Diary of Eccentric
  • June 20        Cracking the Cover
  • June 21        Short Books & Scribes
  • June 22        Reading the Past
  • June 22        Babblings of a Bookworm
  • June 23        My Vices and Weaknesses
  • June 23        The Book Diva Reads
  • June 24        Books, Teacups & Reviews
  • June 24        Wishful Endings
  • June 25        Robin Loves Reading
  • June 25        Bookfoolery
  • June 26        Lit and Life
  • June 26        Vesper’s Place
  • June 27        Foxes and Fairy Tales
  • June 28        Probably at the Library
  • June 28        Scuffed Slippers Wormy Books
  • June 29        The Anglophile Channel
  • June 29        So Little Time…
  • June 30        BookNAround 

©2020 Jane Austen in Vermont 

Interview with Hazel Jones, author of “The Other Knight Boys: Jane Austen’s Dispossessed Nephews”

Enquiring Readers: Today I welcome Austen scholar Hazel Jones in an interview about her newest book The Other Knight Boys: Jane Austen’s Dispossessed Nephews. If you have been following my blog Reading with Austen: Returning the Lost Sheep of Godmersham, you have seen the several posts on the diaries of Charles Bridges Knight, i.e all the excerpts that Hazel shared with me of Charles’ references to his reading in the library at Godmersham Park, home to his father, and Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen Knight [see below for links to these posts]. Hazel has been researching not only the life of Charles, but also the lives of the five other sons of Edward [all six in order are: Edward, George, Henry, William, Charles, and John]. Her recently published book just flows with tales of their childhood into manhood adventures. I highly recommend it, many of the stories worthy of an Austen novel!

So, Welcome Hazel!

JAIV: Can you give a brief summary of the book?

HJ: Jane Austen’s letters provide clear-sighted glimpses of her six Knight nephews as they grew up, but hers was not the only pen to record their privileged upbringing. Cassandra and Henry Austen commented on Edward Austen Knight’s indulgence of his sons and worried about the boys’ ability to cope with future adversity in the wider world; their affectionate sister Fanny noted key moments in their lives – birthdays, holidays, marriages; Charles kept a detailed diary throughout  the 1830s and 40s. The Other Knight Boys explores the character of each nephew in turn, their professional and personal circumstances, their close fraternal bonds as well as the difficulties and disappointments they encountered in adulthood. For five of the brothers, future dispossession of their beloved family home at Godmersham as a consequence of birth order was a reality they had to live with. How it affected the choices they made forms the story that the book attempts to tell.

 JAIV: How did you end up doing this research on Austen’s nephews, the six sons of her brother Edward?

HJ: Quite by chance, in 2010, I was in a small party on a guided tour of Trafalgar (pronounced Traffle-gar) Park near Salisbury in Wiltshire. The property featured as Hartfield in the 1996 ITV film of Emma [with Kate Beckinsale], as well as Barton Park in Emma Thompson’s Sense & Sensibility.  Originally known as Standlynch Park, it was acquired in 1813 by Parliament for Nelson’s brother William, the new 1st Earl Nelson and re-named Trafalgar Park. The Nelson family lived here until 1946. In 2010, the owner was Michael Wade, whose housekeeper conducted us around the ground floor rooms. In the saloon she pointed out a stunning full length portrait of William Nelson’s beautiful wife, Hilare. Wait a minute, I thought, wasn’t she subsequently married to one of Jane Austen’s Knight nephews? Next followed some very intensive sleuthing which uncovered baptismal records in Cornwall and three marriages – to a cousin, to Nelson and eventually to George Knight of Godmersham. The Kent History and Library Centre and the British Library supplied more biographical material and in a room not usually open to visitors at Chawton House, I found a portrait of George as a young man. My research turned into an article on the couple for the 2016 Jane Austen Society Annual Report. After that came the urge to write about the other five Knight boys and uncover as much as possible about the women in their lives. Charles of course never married, but he had close relationships with his father, his brothers and their spouses.

[Portrait of Hilare Countess Nelson, by George Sanders, 1829-34. Courtesy of Martyn Downer and Michael Wade] 

JAIV: Your research took you to materials scattered throughout southern England – “Kent, Hampshire, and beyond” as you say (3). Was most of this known or did you discover any untapped sources?

HJ: The archives in Hampshire Record Office and the Kent Archives at Maidstone have been scoured pretty thoroughly by Austen scholars across many generations, although even here I discovered one or two sparkling gems which had never appeared in any other text. Previously ‘untapped sources’ for me were the Winchester College Archives, the matriculation records held at St John’s and University College in Oxford, the Nelson archive at the British Library and the War Office records at the National Archive, Kew. Articles in the Jane Austen Society Annual Reports (now accessible online) also filled in a number of gaps and put me in touch with other Austen / Knight researchers such as Margaret Wilson, who then provided material I would not otherwise have found. Sophia Hillan, Linda Slothouber, Maggie Lane and Deirdre Le Faye were also happy to have their generous flow of scholarship ‘tapped’. Karen ievers, Andrew Bradford and Hampshire Cultural Trust allowed me to see and reproduce previously unseen images.  

JAIV:  Of the six boys-to-men you researched, was there more information available from sources on any one more than others? And if so, was that frustrating? For instance I know that Charles kept extensive diaries for years – did any of the others leave such behind them?

HJ: Edward’s life is well documented, given that he was the eldest son and lived at Chawton House, but there are few examples, beyond business letters, of his own personal voice. George’s facility with language shines through his amusing poems and articles on cricket written for The Sporting Magazine. His restless character is evidenced by Fanny’s reports of his comings and goings between England and the Continent, his inability to settle to a career in the law and Charles’s revelation of his brother’s wish to try his luck in America. Letters were written to Fanny by all of the brothers, she records their arrival in her daily diary entries, but where are they now? I wish I had found a greater number of letters from Henry to Lizzy Rice. He comes across as the most contentedly independent and self-sufficient of all the brothers; the harrowing nature of his early death tugs at my heart strings. One or two of William’s letters have survived, together with contemporary descriptions of his youthful exuberance and Fanny’s revelation of his affair with the Knatchbull governess. John is the brother about whom least is known and the hardest to pin down on the page, yet his moving account of the loss of Godmersham is the most revealing of all.

JAIV: Edward, of course, was the heir, and while he appears to have maintained a close and friendly relationship with each of his brothers, there had to have been some bad feelings about how he really dispossessed all of them from their Godmersham Park home. Do you feel sympathetic toward him? Did he have any choice?

HJ: Edward’s siblings must have understood that maintaining Chawton House and Godmersham Park was impossible. The drain of his first and second families on Edward’s finances would have been excessive. The sons from his first marriage were at the stage where they required cash, so when Edward Austen Knight died, money came their way via their father. What appears inexplicable is Edward’s expensive and architecturally unsympathetic alterations to Godmersham in 1853, shortly before he decided to lease the property for 20 years. I can understand his attachment to Chawton – it had been his permanent home since 1826, although his frequent and lengthy returns to Kent each year might have misled his brothers and sisters into believing he would eventually move back and continue to make Godmersham available to all the family. When he sold it in 1875, of the brothers only John was still alive.

Chawton House

JAIV:  Some great drama in the family! What is your favorite story? [then I’ll tell you mine!]

HJ: Difficult to choose one … Louisa Lushington’s* description on her visit to Godmersham of the boys somersaulting into the river fully clothed comes near the top of the list and I rather like the story Henry and George concocted, featuring Uncle Henry Austen’s imprisonment for poisoning his second wife. Scandal is always irresistible too … Fanny’s snide references to Fanny Jones, the consequences of Edward’s elopement with Mary Dorothea, William’s affair with the governess.

*[The Journal of Louisa Lushington (1821-22), with an introduction by Linda Slothouber, Chawton House, 2017]

Ok, so you mention my favorite! Edward’s elopement with his sister’s step-daughter is quite compelling, and definitely worthy of a novel – I cannot tell anymore, readers – buy the book!

Photograph of a lost portrait of Edward Knight,
held by Kent County Cricket Club, Canterbury.

 JAIV: There was so much tragedy in their lives: not unlike their father and uncles (excepting the youngest John, and Charles who never married), all suffered the loss of first wives in childbirth or illness. It is really wrenching to read – how do you think they all handled this?

HJ: Tragedies such as these are almost unimaginable in our modern age of effective remedies, reliable diagnoses and informed medical expertise. Death in childbirth happened so frequently that many women – judging by their correspondence – did not expect to survive, so perhaps their husbands anticipated the worst before it happened. As for the Knight husbands, they certainly grieved for a time, it’s difficult to tell for how long, but from Charles’s diaries we learn that Edward was decimated by the loss of Mary Dorothea and that William and Henry were emotionally affected on the first anniversary of their wives’ deaths. Two or three years later, they are all married again, and embarking on the creation of second families. Life went on. Perhaps a combination of strong religious belief, practical rationality and fraternal support carried them through the worst. 

Elizabeth Bridges Knight – Jane Austen blog by Kleurrijk

JAIV: Any sense that the death of their mother after the birth of her 11th child (Brook John, known as John) in 1808 (Edward was 14) had a long-lasting effect on any/each of them?

HJ: John would not have remembered his mother and Charles’s recollections were probably indistinct at best. The affection the brothers felt for each other, for their sisters, and for their father – and his for them – strengthened the familial tie after Elizabeth’s death. Their easy, happy life at Godmersham appears to continue much the same as before, with Fanny standing in as a very capable and loving presence. Male and female occupations and interests were largely separate and distinct, which perhaps helped to lessen the sense of loss at the time and later. Edward, George, Henry and William were away at school for most of the year, Charles and John were initially under Fanny’s care until the time came for them to leave. Any long term effect might have manifested itself in a very understandable anxiety when their own wives became pregnant.

JAIV: Was Jane Austen a big factor in any of their lives growing up (she died when Edward was 23 in July 1817)? But when she became more popular and James Edward Austen Leigh (James’s son) wrote her memoir in 1869 – did any of Edward’s children contribute to that?

HJ: According to Anna Lefroy, Jane Austen was not loved by the Knight children, although they appreciated her story-telling skills. Anna had her own reasons for holding this view, but the probability is that Jane was merely tolerated by the nephews while at Godmersham, especially as they grew older and beyond female influence. Given their hunting, fishing and shooting pursuits, Jane called it ‘sporting mania’, they would see little of her during the day and there is evidence that at and after dinner, she found their their male acquaintance and their talk of wholesale slaughter distasteful. Maria Bertram, bored silly by Mr Rushworth’s boast of game bagged and poachers apprehended, comes to mind. A spinster aunt casting disapproving looks across the table, however, would have had little effect on these confident, indulged young men.  At Chawton, out of the hunting season, the nephews appear to have proved more congenial company, especially Henry and William, whose visits to the Cottage in their aunt’s final year are recorded with great affection in her letters. In 1822, Henry Knight wrote to his sister Lizzy that he expected Chawton to feel ‘sadly unreal’, surely on account of Aunt Jane’s absence, when he next visited.

James Edward Austen-Leigh attempted to access Fanny’s letters from Jane Austen, but did not succeed. He stayed with William Knight at the new Steventon Rectory for a day and night, in order to walk the familiar lanes and remind himself of where the old rectory used to stand. At the time the Memoir was written, Henry, George and Charles were dead.

JAIV: In reading about Edward’s family, do you feel that at any time in her writing that Jane Austen was modelling a character after a real-life family member?

HJ: No. [ha! Love this very succinct answer!]

JAIV: What surprised you the most? – Something previously unknown to you or anyone else in the Austen research world?

HJ: A small discovery involved Henry’s attendance at University College, Oxford. There is no reference to this in other texts and it was even a surprise to Deirdre Le Faye. Another concerns George’s final years, after his wife’s death. I am intrigued by his relationship, whatever it entailed, with Fanny Jones. George’s sister Lady Knatchbull certainly suspected something untoward, especially when her brother moved to Hereford to share a house with Fanny and her husband. One that almost got away is the small sheet of paper, Plate 8 in my book, comprising poems written by Edward Knight II and his second wife Adela. It was listed in the HRO catalogue, but missing from the file. It had still not surfaced when my last day at the Record Office came, but in the three hours it took to drive home, the Archivist had located, photocopied and forwarded it.

Charles Bridges Knight

JAIV: For instance, Charles went to Cambridge not Oxford like the rest of his family – do you know why that was?

HJ: One of my theories is that he was sent to Cambridge to detach him from certain school friends who had involved him in a rebellion at Winchester College in 1818. A number of the expelled ringleaders went on to Oxford, with which Winchester was closely associated. His sister Fanny reveals that Charles was ‘intended for the Law’ at this point – maybe Cambridge had a better reputation for training lawyers. One can only speculate.

JAIV:  All the brothers had very interesting and novel-worthy love interests – some thwarted by parental involvement – but there were elopements, governess shenanigans, some intermarriage with cousins, etc., some of which you have mentioned above  – Charles was the only brother not to marry – was there any love interest found in his diaries?

HJ: From time to time, Charles expresses a lukewarm interest in what he calls ‘domestic happiness’ but he recognized at the same time that it would very likely result in a diminution of his income and the luxury it afforded. While living at Godmersham he attended balls with his sisters, usually reporting afterwards that he had found them ‘stupid’ or that he ‘had not been up to the mark’. He is open to the appeal of women and notes their beauty, or lack of it, and liveliness. In the summer of 1847, when Charles was forty-four, heavily inked deletions appear in his diaries, which appear to be linked to Lizzie Pole, a young woman he encountered at Wolverton Rectory. That Charles himself was not responsible for these obliterations is a possibility, since not all of the references to ‘dear Lizzie’ are removed. His end of the year summary for 1847 expresses ‘shame and sorrow’ at his unbecoming behaviour and ‘cold unfeeling heart’. What happened remains a mystery.

JAIV:  Charles’ diaries are quite detailed and extensive. Are you hoping to do more with them? Make them available to a larger audience? [You were terrific in sharing excerpts from the diaries about Charles’ reading while at Godmersham – see links below]

HJ: Yes indeed. See the answer below!

JAIV: Your previous books, Jane Austen and Marriage (2009, paperback 2017 by Uppercross Press), Jane Austen’s Journeys (2014) are both excellent and informative reads where you discuss the times Jane Austen lived in and how the understanding of that helps us understand her plots and characters. Did you enjoy researching the real people in Austen’s life more or less than delving into a subject?

HJ: I loved creating both of my previous books, but have found biographical writing fascinating and wholly compelling (for that, read obsessive). The Other Knight Boys was my first foray as a writer into this territory and I must admit I did find this kind of study more absorbing than focusing on a set subject. It’s something of a cliché to say it, but I did develop a strong sense of each nephew as a living breathing individual, and consequently able to make informed leaps into speculative musing where there were gaps in the records. Where the boys’ experiences overlapped – attendance at Henry and Sophia’s wedding, for example, or the visit to Ireland on their sister Cassandra’s death – deciding in which chapter or chapters to locate the material and at the same time avoiding unnecessary repetition, was a very complex but rewarding process, rather like solving a six-dimensional puzzle.

JAIV: Which leads us to: What’s up next?

HJ: I am currently working with Peter Sabor on the transcription and annotation of Charles Knight’s diaries – 1832 – 1851.

[The Sophia Hillan book May, Lou & Cass: Jane Austen’s Nieces in Ireland  (Blackstaff Press, 2011) covers the lives of Marianne (May), Louisa, and Cassandra Jane – much has already been written about Fanny, so what about Elizabeth (Lizzy) – is there a story to tell there?

M.C. Hammond’s Relating to Jane has already covered Lizzy Rice’s life.

[JAIV: Goodness, I have this book on my shelf and have never read it – more than half the book is on Lizzy Knight!:  Relating to Jane: Studies on the Life and Novels of Jane Austen with a Life of Her Niece Elizabeth Austen/Knight,  by M. C. Hammond (Minerva Press, 1998)].

JAIV: What is your favorite Austen and why? Your favorite character?

HJ: This reminds me of that question from a famous BBC Radio 4 programme: ‘Which book would you choose to take with you to your desert island?’ My answer would have to be ‘The Complete Works of Jane Austen’.  I find it impossible to single out for special notice one novel or one character. Heroines, heroes and minor characters, they are all perfectly realized and crafted.

JAIV: An absolutely perfect answer! So, what else do you like to read?

HJ: I love reading biographies, by Claire Tomalin and Hermione Lee in particular, also intelligent detective and thriller fiction – P.D. James, Ian Rankin, Stella Rimington, Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, Kate Atkinson; authors from other genres include Dorothy Whipple, Hilary Mantel, C.J. Sansom, Tracey Chevalier … I could go on.

JAIV: well. Thank you for that – a perfect reading list to add to my already toppling TBR pile! [and I see that many of Dorothy Whipple’s books have been republished by the incomparable Persephone Books.]

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A hearty Thank You! Hazel, for sharing so much about your book and research into the world of Austen’s nephews. You give a very loving picture of their varied lives, emphasizing their continued connection and affection for each other, and giving us a compelling view into this next generation of the Austen family. The amount of your research alone astounds me! And again, I highly recommend it to all. If you have any questions for Hazel, please comment below and I will forward them to her for answering.

Hazel Jones, Denman College, Oxfordshire

About the author:

Hazel Jones taught English at Exeter University’s Department of Lifelong Learning. She has lectured to Austen Societies in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands and contributed articles to a number of their journals. Since 1995 she has tutored residential courses on Jane Austen’s life, letters and novels in a range of locations. Her published books include Jane Austen and Marriage (2009) and Jane Austen’s Journeys (2014).

The Other Knight Boys: Jane Austen’s Dispossessed Nephews, by Hazel Jones
Crediton, Devon, UK: Uppercross Press, 2020.

165 pages, color illustrations, notes, bibliography, index.

You can find Hazel’s book at:

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The blog posts on Charles Bridges Knight’s reading at Godmersham Park can be found here:

©2020 Jane Austen in Vermont

‘The Bride of Northanger’ ~ by Diana Birchall ~ Join the Blog Tour!

Hello there Austen Folk and all Lovers of Northanger Abbey,

Please join in on the Celebration and Blog Tour for Diana Birchall’s new book The Bride of Northanger.

First some information on the book and blog tour, hosted by Austenprose:

The Bride of Northanger, A Jane Austen Variation, by Diana Birchall

  • Tour Dates: October 28 – November 15, 2019
  • Genre: Austenesque, Historical Fiction, Gothic Mystery
  • Publisher: White Soup Press (September 19, 2019)
  • Length: 230 pages
  • Trade paperback ISBN: 978-0981654300
  • eBook ASIN: B07Y2HGSMX
  • Author’s website: https://austenvariations.com/diana-birchall/

What’s it all about? (without giving too much away – it is a mystery after all!)

A happier heroine than Catherine Morland does not exist in England, for she is about to marry her beloved, the handsome, witty Henry Tilney. The night before the wedding, Henry reluctantly tells Catherine and her horrified parents a secret he has dreaded to share – that there is a terrible curse on his family and their home, Northanger Abbey. Henry is a clergyman, educated and rational, and after her year’s engagement Catherine is no longer the silly young girl who delighted in reading “horrid novels”; she has improved in both reading and rationality. This sensible young couple cannot believe curses are real…until a murder at the Abbey triggers events as horrid and Gothic as Jane Austen ever parodied – events that shake the young Tilneys’ certainties, but never their love for each other…

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Blog Tour sites and dates:

The Doyenne of Austenesque fiction, Diana Birchall*, tours the blogosphere October 28 through November 15 to share her latest release, The Bride of Northanger. Thirty popular bloggers specializing in historical and Austenesque fiction will feature guest blogs, interviews, excerpts, and book reviews of this acclaimed continuation of Jane Austen’s Gothic parody, Northanger Abbey. Here’s the schedule; I will update the links every day, so check back – and please visit for my interview with Diana on November 6!

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*About the Author:

Diana Birchall worked for many years at Warner Bros studios as a story analyst, reading novels to see if they would make movies. Reading manuscripts went side by side with a restorative and sanity-preserving life in Jane Austen studies and resulted in her writing Austenesque fiction both as homage and attempted investigation of the secrets of Jane Austen’s style. She is the author of In Defense of Mrs. Elton, Mrs. Elton in America, Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma, and the new The Bride of Northanger. She has written hundreds of Austenesque short stories and plays, as well as a biography of her novelist grandmother, and has lectured on her books and staged play readings at places as diverse as Hollywood, Brooklyn, Montreal, Chawton House Library, Alaska, and Yale.

Purchase info:

Diana Birchall’s Social Media links:

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Please come back here on November 6th, for my interview with Diana!

c2019 Jane Austen in Vermont, images courtesy of Austenprose

Jane Austen and the Reformation by Roger E. Moore: Review and Highlights

A must-read review! A must-read book! Professor Moore spoke at the JASNA AGM in Williamsburg, an insightful, eye-opening talk on Jane Austen’s knowledge of the dissolution of the monasteries and how she weaves this into her novels:

via Jane Austen and the Reformation by Roger E. Moore: Review and Highlights

Guest Post ~ Nancy I. Sanders on Her New Book, “Jane Austen for Kids”

Good Morning Readers! Today I welcome Nancy I Sanders, author of the recently released Jane Austen for Kids: Her Life, Writings, and World. Designed for ages 9 and up, the book provides 21 enriching activities to help them gain a better understanding of daily life in the Georgia era: playing whist, designing a coat-of-arms, planting a kitchen garden, learning the boulanger, hosting a tea, playing cricket, sewing a reticule – all activities Jane would have participated in – and now we can too! Filled with pictures and much information of Austen’s life and works, this is a lively and engaging way to learn more about Jane Austen. I highly recommend that you add this book to your Austen collection, no matter your age – you might learn how to curl your hair just like Jane did!

Join Nancy as she takes us on a tour through Jane Austen country, where she was inspired to write this book!

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Our beloved Jane once wrote in a letter to her sister Cassandra, “It appeared so likely to be a wet evening that I went up to the Great House between three and four, and dawdled away an hour very comfortably.”

Two centuries later, early in the afternoon on July 19, 2017, I rode with my husband Jeff and our JASNA tour group on the tour bus toward the Great House. My heart beat with excitement as we drove past quaint homes, many reflecting days gone by.

I had traveled all the way from Los Angeles here to Hampshire to treasure this experience today. As a children’s writer, I was researching and taking photographs for my newest book, Jane Austen for Kids. But for me as well as others in our group, today would be a highlight of our trip. I would get to visit Jane’s adult home, the church she attended with her mother and sister and other family members, and her brother Edward’s nearby mansion, known affectionately as the Great House.

Chawton House –  “The Great House”

We turned up the lane and I saw it. The Great House. Jane spent many a merry day here visiting her nieces and nephews…exploring the well-stocked library…meandering over the manicured grounds…drinking delightful teas…and, I dare say, collecting many ideas for her novels.

What a joy it was to explore the Great House. Now known as the Chawton House, its collections feature Jane Austen as well as other famous women writers. We visited its library room with collections of rare books. We saw the huge portrait painted of Edward Knight, Jane’s fortunate brother who was adopted by the childless Knights. The silhouette of this adoption was also here at the Great House. It was because of her brother’s adoption by Jane’s wealthy relatives that Edward eventually inherited this property and also the humble cottage that eventually was granted for Jane, her mother, and her sister Cassandra to live in.

In the dining room was the same dining table where Jane would sit down to eat when she visited her brother and her favorite niece, Fanny. We saw Jane’s favorite window overlooking the gravel driveway where Jane would sit and look out and imagine…

 

Finally it was time to leave. There were other memories to explore. We headed toward St. Nicholas Church, located next to the Great House.

Arriving at St. Nicholas Church, a peaceful pastoral scene greeted us. Its open gate beckoned us inside.

Later that day, I wrote in my travel journal of this experience:

As we walked down the golden gravel path, the gentle mist fell around us as the gentle mist of time melted away. We walked in the footsteps of Jane and her family on their way to church and to visit each other. Sheep bleated peacefully in the nearby pasture. Jane’s sister and mother are buried behind the church. Their tombstones stand as silent reminders that there are stories of our Jane still waiting to be told…

 

Parish Church of St. Nicholas, Chawton

 

We passed by tombstones, weathered by the rains and sunshines of time. Even though this church has been renovated and altered from its original design, it was still a remarkable site to see.

Inside was a simple magnificence.

A hushed stillness comforted our visit and filled us with awe.

I headed outside, paused for a moment to take a photo shot, then walked around in search of the graveyard.

More sheep grazed quietly near the old churchyard fence.

A giant tree, ancient silent sentinel, hosted a sign that pointed me toward the back.

And then I saw them. Standing side by side as markers of the two women who were perhaps most influential in Jane’s life. Her mother and her sister, both named Cassandra. The moss and ivy made delicate frames for this picturesque site. I lingered…savoring this moment…quiet…reflecting…the influence of these women reaching down through two centuries to influence me as a woman, as a reader, and as a writer.

But there was more to see, so I finally pulled myself away and headed back to the front of the church, out the gate, and down the gravel lane. I turned to take one last look at St. Nicholas and bid it farewell.

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Then down the gravel lane to the country road. Destination? Chawton Cottage, the home where Jane lived and wrote a large bulk of her novels. Today it houses Jane Austen’s House Museum.

We walked down the Jane Austen Trail….

The country land led us past moss-covered fence posts and ivy-covered trees. I must have brushed against the undergrowth because suddenly, the calf of my right leg was on fire.

Alas! That ancient culprit. Stinging nettle! I had become its victim just as in Jane’s day. Except for the pain, I had to smile. It was an unexpected souvenir of my day’s adventure.

We meandered past more quaint homes and delightfully overgrown gardens.

 

We turned the corner. And there it was. Chawton Cottage. Jane’s beloved home. Tea awaited us! Along with a glimpse into the daily life and heart of Jane.

Inside we found her writing table. The infamous door that squeaked. The bedroom she shared with Cassandra her adult life. The garden where she gathered flowers…but more than just things, we found rich treasures. Pearls and diamonds enough to fill our hearts to overflowing…yet never enough. Can one ever get enough of our Jane?

 

Once outside again, a surprise awaited us. This bench was one of many benches painted in commemoration of 200 years of Jane’s legacy to the world. They were scattered throughout Hampshire and we saw quite a number of them at various historic sites where Jane visited or stayed.

This beautiful bench brought me back from the 1700-1800s to my current day. It reminded me that I had a task to do. An exciting project that I would spend the rest of that year working on. My biography of Jane that would bring her life to young readers in a way no other book has done, focusing on Jane’s childhood and juvenile writings as well as including historic activities based on Jane’s life and times.

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Jane Austen for Kids: Her Life, Writings, and World
By Nancy I. Sanders
Official book’s website:  http://nancyisanders.com/jane-austen/

About the author:

Nancy I. Sanders was introduced to Jane Austen as a teenager when she read Pride and Prejudice aloud with her future sister-in-law. Since then she chose to follow in Jane’s footsteps to become a writer—although her published books mostly are enjoyed by younger readers (such as the rollicking fun picture book A Pirate’s Mother Goose). With over 100 books to her credit including bestsellers and award-winning titles, Nancy still enjoys reading Jane Austen with Persuasion being her current favorite. Nancy and her husband Jeff live in Norco CA near their two sons and their wives, and three grandchildren.

Credits:

  • “It appeared”: Jane to Cassandra Austen, 13 June 1814, in Chapman, Jane Austen’s Letters, 388.
  • Chawton House photos by author, courtesy of Chawton House
  • St. Nicholas photos by author, courtesy of St. Nicholas, Chawton
  • Chawton Cottage photo by author, courtesy of the Jane Austen’s House Museum

c2019, Jane Austen in Vermont

For Your Reading Pleasure: JASNA’s “Persuasions On-Line”

Happy New Year One and All! If one of your Resolutions was to read more about Jane Austen, here is a great place to start!

The latest Persuasions On-Line is now available on the JASNA.org website:  http://www.jasna.org/publications/persuasions-online/volume-39-no-1/

Persuasions On-Line Volume 39, No. 1 (Winter 2018)

ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING 2017: KANSAS CITY: PERSUASION: 200 YEARS OF CONSTANCY AND HOPE

  1. How the “Long War” Affected Jane Austen’s Family and Her Novels – Collins Hemingway
  2. “She Had Only Navy-Lists and Newspapers for Her Authority” – Hazel Jones
  3. Sailors in Fiction before Persuasion’s “Gentlemen of the Navy” – Susan Allen Ford
  4. Captain Wentworth and the Duke of Monmouth: Brilliant, Dangerous, and Headstrong – Jocelyn Harris
  5. The Grace to Deserve: Weighing Merit in Jane Austen’s Persuasion – Mary Ellen Bertolini
  6. A Tale of Two Captains: Whose Heart Is Worth Having? – Theresa Kenney
  7. Ivory and Canvas: Naval Miniature Portraiture in Jane Austen’s Persuasion – Moriah Webster
  8. “A State of Alteration”: Stylistic Contrasts in the Musgroves’ Parlor – Kristen Miller Zohn
  9. Revisiting Lake Louise 1993 – Juliet McMaster

MISCELLANY

  1. Three Pamphlets on the Leigh-Perrot Trial: Why Austen Sent Susan to Crosby – Margie Burns
  2. Where Jane Austen Sat: The “Austin” Box at Edmund Kean’s Shylock, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, March 5, 1814 – David Worrall
  3. Nonsense Elements in Jane Austen’s Juvenilia – Donna R. White
  4. Marianne Dashwood’s Repentance, Willoughby’s “Repentance,” and The Book of Common Prayer – Brenda S. Cox
  5. The Probable Location of Donwell Abbey in Jane Austen’s Emma – Kenneth Smith
  6. To be “esteemed quite worthy”: Fortunes, Futures, and Economic Language in Persuasion – Maria Frawley, Kaitlyn Nigro, and Gwendolyn Umbach
  7. “Even Miss Bates Has Mind”: A Cognitive Historicist Reading of Emma’s Miss Bates – Kathleen R. Steele
  8. Jane, Bingley, and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: Or, the Other Couple in Pride and Prejudice – Jenny Rebecca Rytting
  9. Jane Austen in the Nursing Classroom: A Tool to Expand Psychiatric Assessment Skills – Tawny Burgess
  10. Pride and Prejudice in Black and White: First and Last Impressions (1938–1967) – Reinier Wels
  11. Pride and Prejudice in Black and White: De vier dochters Bennet (1961–1962) – Reinier Wels
  12. Lost in Austen: A Postmodern Reanimation of Pride and Prejudice – Wim Tigges
  13. Jane Austen Bibliography, 2017 – Deborah Barnum

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The Table of Contents of Persuasions 39 (2017) is now online as well (alas! the essays are not – reason enough to become a JASNA member…): http://www.jasna.org/publications/persuasions/no-39/

Papers from the AGM 2O17: HUNTINGTON BEACH: JANE AUSTEN IN PARADISE: INTIMATIONS OF IMMORTALITY

  1. Women of Genius: Jane Austen, Germaine de Staël, and the Nineteenth-Century Heroine – Gillian Dow (13-30)
  2. Godmersham Park Library: Jane Austen’s Paradise Regained – Peter Sabor (31-44)
  3. The Child Is Mother to the Novelist: From the Juvenilia to the Novels – Juliet McMaster (45-56 )
  4. Dirty Girls, Dirty Books, and the Breakdown of Boundaries in Jane Austen’s Fiction – Kathy Justice Gentile (57-69)
  5. “I Cannot Get Out”: The Self-Imposed Afterlife of Maria Bertram – Leta Sundet (70-77)
  6. Sanditon at 200: Intimations of a New Consumerist Society – Sara Dustin (78-87)
  7. Modernist Jane: Austen’s Reception by Writers of the Twenties and Thirties – Lisa Tyler (88-99)
  8. In and Out of the Foxholes: Talking of Jane Austen During and After World War II – Annette M. LeClair (100-111)
  9. Angela Thirkell and “Miss Austen” – Sara Bowen (112-125)
  10. After Jane Austen – Devoney Looser (126-146)
  11. JASNA and the Academy: The Anxiety of Affiliation – Elaine Bander (147-162)
  12. Becoming Catherine Morland: A Cautionary Tale of Manuscripts in the Archive – Emily C. Friedman (163-173)

MISCELLANY

  1. Jane Austen and Catharine Macaulay – Karen Green (177-183)
  2. A Third Publisher’s Advertisement for Susan Found: Why Didn’t Crosby Publish Jane Austen? – Margie Burns (184-202)
  3. The Watsons: Its Place in Jane Austen’s Development as a Writer – David Hughes (203-212)
  4. Deception with a Graceful Bow: Northanger Abbey’s General Tilney and Dance Semiotics – Sabrina M. Gilchrist (213-221)
  5. Jane Austen and Roman History – Herbert W. Benario (222-225)
  6. “She Heard All Mrs. Elton’s Knight-Errantry on the Subject”: Emma as Chivalric Romance -Tiffany Schubert (226-234)
  7. Mobility, the Outdoors, and Social Position in Persuasion – E. Holly Pike (235-242)
  8. Sanditon and the Pursuit of Health – Michael Biddiss (243-254)

That should keep you all busy for a good while…

c2019 Jane Austen in Vermont; images courtesy of JASNA.org

Guest Post: “Praying with Jane,” by Rachel Dodge ~ And Book Giveaway!

UPDATE: the winner of the book giveaway is “artsresearchnyc” – please email me with your contact info and I will send the book to you right away. Congratulations! Thank you all for participating!

Good Morning all! – I am re-blogging this post by Rachel Dodge today as part of the Blog Tour for her book Praying with Jane – and now to include a book giveaway (there is also a book giveaway from Jane Austen’s World – Vic is hosting the blog tour – but I am also offering a giveaway, courtesy of the publisher Bethany House). Please comment or ask Rachel a question by next Monday, November 12 and you will be entered into the random drawing for a copy (domestic mailing only, sorry to say…) – I will announce the winner on November 14th. It’s a beautiful book and one that should certainly be added to your Jane Austen collection. You can follow along with the blog tour by clicking on the links at the end of this post.

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Gentle Readers: I welcome today Rachel Dodge, who has just published (October 2nd!) her book Praying with Jane: 31 Days through the Prayers of Jane Austen (Bethany House, 2018). I had the pleasure of meeting Rachel at the JASNA AGM last week in Kansas City, MO, where we connected at her Emporium table, and where I purchased her book. In it, Dodge takes us through the three prayers that Jane Austen wrote, offers ten devotions per prayer, and weaves into each chapter pieces from Austen’s life and works. It is lovely and inspirational and edifying all at once, taking us into a very private Jane Austen.

As Dodge herself suggests in her introduction, “take time to settle yourself into a quiet spot with a cup of tea or coffee and your journal. This is your invitation to know Jane better…and the God she loved…”

 

Exploring Jane Austen’s Prayers in Praying with Jane

When an author friend asked me a few years ago if I’d ever thought of writing a book about Jane Austen, it made me smile. After writing and speaking about Austen for almost two decades, the thought of writing a book intrigued me. My friend suggested I write something about Austen’s faith. As soon as she said the words, my heart started beating a little faster. I leaned forward and said, “I’ve always wanted to write a book about her prayers.”

That was the start of an incredible journey to the writing and publication of my upcoming book, Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen (Bethany House, October 2018). As I studied Austen’s prayers, read and reread every article and biography I could find on her faith and prayers, studied the original manuscripts at Mills College, and traveled back to her homes and churches in Steventon and Chawton, a picture of a faith biography formed in my mind. I wanted to honor Austen’s prayers and highlight the spiritual side of her life in a unique way.

As I read Austen’s prayers again and again, turning them over in my mind, listening to the cadence of her words, and reflecting on the meaning behind each line, I realized that simply reading Austen’s prayers in one sitting isn’t enough. Like her novels, Austen’s prayers are full of deep insights; they require a close, thoughtful reading. I began to look at the prayers in smaller chunks, reading them line-by-line. With that format in mind, I divided them into a month’s worth of entries and began work on a 31-day devotional book.

As I examined Austen’s prayers, I looked carefully at the meaning in each line and what writing them might have meant to her. Passages from her novels, her letters, and the Austen family memoirs came alive, and I wove them into each daily entry as illustrations of what the prayers can teach us.

Finally, the last step was to make Austen’s prayers practical and personal. As readers, students, and worshippers, we can either be passive or active. For me, the book couldn’t just be about her writing skill, the form the prayers take, or her use of language. It couldn’t even just be about her faith. It needed to also be about what her prayers can teach us. Thus, toward the end of each day’s entry, I include an area for personal reflection, a key Scripture verse, and a sample prayer. Praying with Jane is written as an exploration of Austen’s prayers and an invitation to join her in praying our own prayers.

Jane Austen’s Prayers

Besides her novels, juvenilia, and minor works, Jane Austen wrote three prayers. Cassandra folded them together and inscribed the words “Prayers Composed by my ever dear Sister Jane” on the outside. They were passed down by her family and kept safe for future generations. The three prayers echo the cadence and language of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the liturgy of the Church of England. Each prayer includes thanksgiving, confession, petition, and intercession. In them, she uses the pronoun “we,” indicating that her prayers were most likely meant to be read aloud in a group setting. They are believed to have been written for evening devotions because they include reflections on the past day.

George Austen

Austen’s father, Reverend George Austen, was a devoted Anglican clergyman, husband, and father. He taught his children to take time for private prayer in the morning and evening, to read devotional literature, and to read (and even memorize) famous sermons. In Jane Austen: The Parson’s Daughter, Irene Collins writes that Jane Austen “cherished” William Vickers’ Companion to the Altar and “made constant use of the prayers and meditations included in it” (72). The Austen family’s religious life extended far beyond the morning and evening church services they attended on Sundays. They shared in corporate family prayers in the morning and evening, they said their own private prayers when they woke up and went to bed each day, and they prayed as a family before meals and gave thanks afterward.

In the evening, the Austen family enjoyed reading out loud from novels, poetry, sermons, and the Bible. On one Sunday evening when the family was unable to attend church, Jane wrote in a letter, “In the evening we had the Psalms and Lessons, and a sermon at home” (Letters). It’s likely that Jane shared her prayers during her family’s evening devotions.

Austen is thorough in her prayers, as in her life, and covers every part of the human plight with great care. I’ve included a few lines from each of her prayers to illustrate the range of topics she covers. (All of my quotes are from the original manuscripts that I carefully transcribed as faithfully as possible.) Her prayers show deep concern for her family and friends and for others who may need comfort or protection:

Be Gracious to our Necessities, and guard us, and all we love, from Evil this night. May the sick and afflicted, by now, & ever thy care; and heartily do we pray for the safety of all that travel by Land or by Sea, for the comfort & protection of the Orphan & Widow, & that thy pity may be shewn, upon all Captives & Prisoners. (Prayer One)

Her prayers also reveal a spirit of thankfulness. It appears that Austen understood the importance of practicing gratitude in even the minor details of life:

We bless thee for every comfort of our past and present existence, for our health of Body & of Mind & for every other source of happiness which Thou hast bountifully bestowed on us & with which we close this day, imploring their continuance from Thy Fatherly goodness, with a more grateful sense of them, than they have hitherto excited. (Prayer Two)

Furthermore, her prayers point to her desire for a humble spirit and a kind attitude toward others. As her letters and novels attest, she had a fine sense of humor and did not take herself too seriously. She was quick-witted and opinionated, yet she was also quick to admit her own faults:

Incline us Oh God! to think humbly of ourselves, to be severe only in the examination of our own conduct, to consider our fellow-creatures with kindness, & to judge of all they say & do with that Charity which we would desire from Men ourselves. (Prayer Three)

Austen’s prayers also reveal a tender reverence in regard to her faith and her family’s spiritual life. Writing Praying with Jane has been an immense privilege. Exploring Jane Austen’s prayer life has enhanced my own spiritual life and brought me great joy. I hope it will do the same for many others.

About Praying with Jane:

In Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen, readers can explore Austen’s prayers in an intimate devotional format as they learn about her personal faith, her Anglican upbringing, and the spiritual truths found in her novels. Each daily entry includes examples from Austen’s own life and novels, as well as key Scripture verses, ideas for personal application, and a sample prayer.

To order your copy of Praying with Jane, visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your favorite bookseller. For a limited time, when you order a copy of Praying with Jane, you can visit RachelDodge.com to claim a free digital download of six printable Praying with Jane Prayer Cards. Each prayer card has a quote from Austen’s prayers and space to write your own prayers and praises.


About the author:

Rachel Dodge teaches college English and Jane Austen classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and Jane Austen groups, and is a regular contributor to Jane Austen’s World blog. A true “Janeite” at heart, Rachel enjoys books, bonnets, and ball gowns. She makes her home in Northern California with her husband and two children.

Works Cited

-Austen, Jane. Prayers. “Prayers Composed by my ever dear sister.” Manuscripts (two quarto sheets). The Elinor Raas Heller Rare Book Room, Mills College, Oakland, California.

-_____.  Jane Austen’s Letters, ed. Deirdre Le Faye, 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011.

-Collins, Irene. Jane Austen: The Parson’s Daughter. London: Bloomsbury, 1998.

You can visit Rachel:

at her website: https://www.racheldodge.com/
on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/racheldodgebooks/
on twitter: https://twitter.com/racheldodgebks

Stay tuned for an upcoming book giveaway!

Images courtesty of Rachel Dodge; image of the Rev. George Austen from Austenonly.
c2018 Jane Austen in Vermont

Blog Tour Dates:

October 31 – Praying with Jane, My changed Relationship with Jane, Jane Austen’s World, Vic Sanborn

November 1 – Praying With Jane by Rachel Dodge,  So Little Time, So Much to Read!, Candy Morton

November 2 – Praying With Jane: 31 Days Through Prayer (Review and Giveaway)Laura’s Reviews, Laura Gerold

November 3 – Praying With Jane: 31 Days Through Prayer by Rachel Dodge, Burton Book Review, Marie Burton

November 4 – Blog Tour: Praying With Jane: 31 Days Through Prayer by Rachel DodgeBLOGLOVIN‘, Sophia Rose

November 5 – Guest Post: Praying With Jane by Rachel Dodge and Book Giveaway! Jane Austen in Vermont, Deborah Barnum

November 6 – Calico Critic – Book Spotlight and Giveaway: Praying with Jane by Rachel Dodge , Laura Hartness

November 7 – A Bookish Way of Life – Praying with Jane, Nadia Anguiano

November 8 – Diary of an Eccentric – Book Spotlight – Praying with JaneAnna Horner

November 9 – Review of Praying with Jane, Becoming, Nichole Parks, Nichole Parks

November 10 – Praying with Jane: A new devotional based on the prayers of Jane Austen, My Jane Austen Book Club, Maria Grazia

November 11 – Praying with Jane Blog Tour: Interview and Giveaways, My Love for Jane Austen, Sylvia Chan

November 12 – Laughing with Lizzie, Sophie Andrews

November 13 – Book Review – Praying with JaneBrenda Cox

Previous reviews:

Praying with Jane Blog Tour: https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2018/10/20/praying-with-jane-blog-tour/

Praying with Jane, Michelle Ule: https://www.michelleule.com/2018/09/28/jane-austen/

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Guest Post: “Praying with Jane,” by Rachel Dodge

Gentle Readers: I welcome today Rachel Dodge, who has just published (October 2nd!) her book Praying with Jane: 31 Days through the Prayers of Jane Austen (Bethany House, 2018). I had the pleasure of meeting Rachel at the JASNA AGM last week in Kansas City, MO, where we connected at her Emporium table, and where I purchased her book. In it, Dodge takes us through the three prayers that Jane Austen wrote, offers ten devotions per prayer, and weaves into each chapter pieces from Austen’s life and works. It is lovely and inspirational and edifying all at once, taking us into a very private Jane Austen.

As Dodge herself suggests in her introduction, “take time to settle yourself into a quiet spot with a cup of tea or coffee and your journal. This is your invitation to know Jane better…and the God she loved…”

 

Exploring Jane Austen’s Prayers in Praying with Jane

When an author friend asked me a few years ago if I’d ever thought of writing a book about Jane Austen, it made me smile. After writing and speaking about Austen for almost two decades, the thought of writing a book intrigued me. My friend suggested I write something about Austen’s faith. As soon as she said the words, my heart started beating a little faster. I leaned forward and said, “I’ve always wanted to write a book about her prayers.”

That was the start of an incredible journey to the writing and publication of my upcoming book, Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen (Bethany House, October 2018). As I studied Austen’s prayers, read and reread every article and biography I could find on her faith and prayers, studied the original manuscripts at Mills College, and traveled back to her homes and churches in Steventon and Chawton, a picture of a faith biography formed in my mind. I wanted to honor Austen’s prayers and highlight the spiritual side of her life in a unique way.

As I read Austen’s prayers again and again, turning them over in my mind, listening to the cadence of her words, and reflecting on the meaning behind each line, I realized that simply reading Austen’s prayers in one sitting isn’t enough. Like her novels, Austen’s prayers are full of deep insights; they require a close, thoughtful reading. I began to look at the prayers in smaller chunks, reading them line-by-line. With that format in mind, I divided them into a month’s worth of entries and began work on a 31-day devotional book.

As I examined Austen’s prayers, I looked carefully at the meaning in each line and what writing them might have meant to her. Passages from her novels, her letters, and the Austen family memoirs came alive, and I wove them into each daily entry as illustrations of what the prayers can teach us.

Finally, the last step was to make Austen’s prayers practical and personal. As readers, students, and worshippers, we can either be passive or active. For me, the book couldn’t just be about her writing skill, the form the prayers take, or her use of language. It couldn’t even just be about her faith. It needed to also be about what her prayers can teach us. Thus, toward the end of each day’s entry, I include an area for personal reflection, a key Scripture verse, and a sample prayer. Praying with Jane is written as an exploration of Austen’s prayers and an invitation to join her in praying our own prayers.

Jane Austen’s Prayers

Besides her novels, juvenilia, and minor works, Jane Austen wrote three prayers. Cassandra folded them together and inscribed the words “Prayers Composed by my ever dear Sister Jane” on the outside. They were passed down by her family and kept safe for future generations. The three prayers echo the cadence and language of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the liturgy of the Church of England. Each prayer includes thanksgiving, confession, petition, and intercession. In them, she uses the pronoun “we,” indicating that her prayers were most likely meant to be read aloud in a group setting. They are believed to have been written for evening devotions because they include reflections on the past day.

George Austen

Austen’s father, Reverend George Austen, was a devoted Anglican clergyman, husband, and father. He taught his children to take time for private prayer in the morning and evening, to read devotional literature, and to read (and even memorize) famous sermons. In Jane Austen: The Parson’s Daughter, Irene Collins writes that Jane Austen “cherished” William Vickers’ Companion to the Altar and “made constant use of the prayers and meditations included in it” (72). The Austen family’s religious life extended far beyond the morning and evening church services they attended on Sundays. They shared in corporate family prayers in the morning and evening, they said their own private prayers when they woke up and went to bed each day, and they prayed as a family before meals and gave thanks afterward.

In the evening, the Austen family enjoyed reading out loud from novels, poetry, sermons, and the Bible. On one Sunday evening when the family was unable to attend church, Jane wrote in a letter, “In the evening we had the Psalms and Lessons, and a sermon at home” (Letters). It’s likely that Jane shared her prayers during her family’s evening devotions.

Austen is thorough in her prayers, as in her life, and covers every part of the human plight with great care. I’ve included a few lines from each of her prayers to illustrate the range of topics she covers. (All of my quotes are from the original manuscripts that I carefully transcribed as faithfully as possible.) Her prayers show deep concern for her family and friends and for others who may need comfort or protection:

Be Gracious to our Necessities, and guard us, and all we love, from Evil this night. May the sick and afflicted, by now, & ever thy care; and heartily do we pray for the safety of all that travel by Land or by Sea, for the comfort & protection of the Orphan & Widow, & that thy pity may be shewn, upon all Captives & Prisoners. (Prayer One)

Her prayers also reveal a spirit of thankfulness. It appears that Austen understood the importance of practicing gratitude in even the minor details of life:

We bless thee for every comfort of our past and present existence, for our health of Body & of Mind & for every other source of happiness which Thou hast bountifully bestowed on us & with which we close this day, imploring their continuance from Thy Fatherly goodness, with a more grateful sense of them, than they have hitherto excited. (Prayer Two)

Furthermore, her prayers point to her desire for a humble spirit and a kind attitude toward others. As her letters and novels attest, she had a fine sense of humor and did not take herself too seriously. She was quick-witted and opinionated, yet she was also quick to admit her own faults:

Incline us Oh God! to think humbly of ourselves, to be severe only in the examination of our own conduct, to consider our fellow-creatures with kindness, & to judge of all they say & do with that Charity which we would desire from Men ourselves. (Prayer Three)

Austen’s prayers also reveal a tender reverence in regard to her faith and her family’s spiritual life. Writing Praying with Jane has been an immense privilege. Exploring Jane Austen’s prayer life has enhanced my own spiritual life and brought me great joy. I hope it will do the same for many others.

About Praying with Jane:

In Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen, readers can explore Austen’s prayers in an intimate devotional format as they learn about her personal faith, her Anglican upbringing, and the spiritual truths found in her novels. Each daily entry includes examples from Austen’s own life and novels, as well as key Scripture verses, ideas for personal application, and a sample prayer.

To order your copy of Praying with Jane, visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your favorite bookseller. For a limited time, when you order a copy of Praying with Jane, you can visit RachelDodge.com to claim a free digital download of six printable Praying with Jane Prayer Cards. Each prayer card has a quote from Austen’s prayers and space to write your own prayers and praises.


About the author:

Rachel Dodge teaches college English and Jane Austen classes, gives talks at libraries, teas, and Jane Austen groups, and is a regular contributor to Jane Austen’s World blog. A true “Janeite” at heart, Rachel enjoys books, bonnets, and ball gowns. She makes her home in Northern California with her husband and two children.

Works Cited

-Austen, Jane. Prayers. “Prayers Composed by my ever dear sister.” Manuscripts (two quarto sheets). The Elinor Raas Heller Rare Book Room, Mills College, Oakland, California.

-_____.  Jane Austen’s Letters, ed. Deirdre Le Faye, 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011.

-Collins, Irene. Jane Austen: The Parson’s Daughter. London: Bloomsbury, 1998.

You can visit Rachel:

at her website: https://www.racheldodge.com/
on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/racheldodgebooks/
on twitter: https://twitter.com/racheldodgebks

Stay tuned for an upcoming book giveaway!

Images courtesty of Rachel Dodge; image of the Rev. George Austen from Austenonly.
c2018 Jane Austen in Vermont

Reblog: The Inexhaustible Jane Austen: An Interview with Jocelyn Harris and Bucknell University Press

Gentle Readers: I post here the full text of an interview with Austen scholar Jocelyn Harris that she did with her publisher Bucknell University Press on her newest book Satire, Celebrity, & Politics in Jane Austen. You can find the original post here: http://upress.blogs.bucknell.edu/2017/10/16/the-inexhaustible-jane-austen-an-interview-with-jocelyn-harris/

[Photo by Reg Graham]

Upon the release of her new book Satire, Celebrity, & Politics in Jane Austen (Bucknell University Press, 2017), Jocelyn Harris was kind enough to discuss her research and writing on the witty English novelist.  Jane Austen has been the subject for much of Harris’ work, and still is, as Harris continues to uncover new insights into Austen’s life and writing. As Harris puts it, Austen is “quite simply inexhaustible”—and as Harris’ responses demonstrate, new methods of research and deeper investigation reveal more about her with each new endeavor.

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Bucknell University Press [BUP]: You state in your introduction that you “reconstruct Jane Austen’s creative process by means of the newspapers she perused, the gossip she heard, the streets she walked upon, and the sights she saw.”  This method suggests a focus on environment, an almost anthropological study of a different time and place.  What was the research process like in regards to uncovering evidence from the past?  What challenges did you meet?  What was the most rewarding?

Jocelyn Harris [JH]: Distance is my biggest challenge, because I live in New Zealand, half a world away from the great libraries of Europe and North America. The Internet has quite simply changed my life. Exciting new resources such as databases of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century newspapers, digitized manuscripts, online books, blogs, and search engines all open up cultural and historical contexts that bring her back to life—as do new books and editions in print and e-book form, readily accessible articles on the web, and email suggestions from friends.

Reading the magnificent modern editions of Fanny Burney’s letters and journals made me aware that snippets of her correspondence, obviously too good to ignore, reappear in Austen’s novels. My guess is that her mother’s gossipy cousin, who lived over the road from the celebrated author, could have told the family many a sensational tale of Burney’s life at the court of George III.

With the help of the Internet, I realized that Austen probably based Elizabeth and Jane Bennet on two royal mistresses. Dorothy Jordan, celebrity actress, mistress to the Duke of Clarence, and mother of his ten children, seems to have inspired her creation of the lively Elizabeth, while Austen would identify a portrait of the regent’s mistress, Mrs. Georgina Quentin, as Mrs. Bingley. When the regent came courting this “professed spanker,” Georgina was living in Covent Garden, where Austen stayed with her banker brother, Henry.

Most of Jane Austen’s correspondence has been lost, and she kept no diary. Therefore, I had to fill out her life by poring over her locations, her reading, her social and literary networks, her knowledge of current events, and her viewing of cartoons and portraits.

BUP: While she is immortalized by her writing, Austen was a real person living during a unique moment in history.  In your opinion, what is the most compelling piece of information that you learned about Jane Austen during the research process for this book?

JH: Austen is often regarded as a gentle, amusing ironist. But as the title of Satire, Celebrity, and Politics in Jane Austen indicates, I believe that she was a courageous political satirist.  At a time when the cult of celebrity was in its infancy, she targeted celebrities, up to and including the Prince of Wales. Her in-jokes about public figures demonstrate her worldliness, her fascination with fame, and her relish of rumor.

She was also never more than one degree of separation away from royalty. To know from a local historian’s website that the young Prince of Wales lived near Steventon, Austen’s home, was to understand why she created so many satiric avatars of him. Austen was a patriot, and the prince was endangering the nation. She attacked him in the only way she could, obliquely, through her characters and plots. In Northanger Abbey, for instance, the unlovely John Thorpe lies, boasts, swears, looks, and behaves as badly as Prince George. A “stout young man of middling height,” with a “plain face and ungraceful form,” Thorpe utters “a short decisive sentence of praise or condemnation on the face of every woman they met.”

Austen attacks the prince yet again in Mansfield Park’s Henry Crawford, a man marked like him by caprice and unsteadiness. Crawford indulges in the “freaks of a cold-blooded vanity,” and rids himself of his money and leisure “at the idlest haunts in the kingdom.” In Persuasion, she criticizes Sir Walter Elliot’s status and power, as unearned as the regent’s, and praises Captain Wentworth’s merit and courage. Austen’s lacerating portraits suggest first-hand knowledge of the prince’s vulgar, voyeuristic, and self-indulgent ways.

BUP: Considering again the study of place, if Austen had lived during this day and age, who do you think her subjects for inspiration might have been?  How do you think the world would have reacted to her wit, humor, and criticism?

JH: A Regency woman in a golden age of satire, Austen attacked the Prince of Wales for his much-lampooned appearance, his lewdness, his vanity, his instability, his outrageous spending, his tremendous debts, his desire for absolute power, his implicit treason, his fondness for over-the-top building ventures, and his embarrassing braggadocio. Even court insiders warned that the prince was not fit to be king, and Austen wrote that she hated him. The current resurgence of political satire in social media, newspapers, and cartoons would have delighted this savvy, progressive, and thoroughly modern woman.

BUP: Satire, Celebrity, and Politics being your third book on Jane Austen, how has your research evolved regarding your interest in her life and writing? Are there any questions that still need to be answered? What will you do next?

JH: I only want to know how Jane Austen did it (only!). In Jane Austen’s Art of Memory (Cambridge University Press, 1989), I followed the turns of her mind as she picked up elements from other writers and made them into her own. Undeterred by being a woman, she took whatever she wanted from anywhere.

In A Revolution Almost Beyond Expression: Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” (University of Delaware Press, 2007), I traced her creative process in the only manuscript to survive from her published novels. In the cancelled chapters of Persuasion, she deletes, interlineates, writes new material in the margins, and sticks on a scrap with a wax wafer. Eight days later, she threw all that away, and wrote some of the most remarkable scenes in her work––the last chapters of Persuasion.  She was indeed a true professional.

At a time of hardship, inequality, and war, Austen wrote, “How much are the Poor to be pitied, and the Rich to be blamed.” In Persuasion, she attacks the class hierarchies propping up the society of her day. In a highly subversive move, she sets Sir Walter Elliot’s Baronetage against Captain Wentworth’s Navy List, pride of birth against pride of accomplishment. The aging patriarch of the Elliots cannot compete with the glamorous young Captain Wentworth, who derives from real-life heroes such as Lord Nelson, Lord Byron, and Captain Cook. So too, in this brave new world of energy and achievement, the faded beauty of Bath gives way to the Romantic sublimity of Lyme Regis. In this eloquent novel about second chances, Anne Elliot finds a fragile happiness.

Jane Austen is quite simply inexhaustible. I’m writing about her relationship to Madame de Staël, the foremost woman genius of the age; the London locations where she could have seen contemporary cartoons; and her continual fascination with Fanny Burney. There is always more to find out about this extraordinary woman.

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For more information on Austen, take a look at Harris’ latest book Satire, Celebrity, and Politics in Jane Austen. To order visit http://www.rowman.com or call 1-800-462-6420. Use code “UP30AUTH17” to save 30% on the list price (not valid on eBook).

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c2017, Jane Austen Vermont, reblogged from Bucknell University Press