Guest Post by Tony Grant: Virginia Woolf Made a Reference to Jane Austen

Dear Janeites and Other Readers:  I welcome today Tony Grant. He has just read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and asked if I would post his review. Tony for a time wrote a blog on Virginia Woolf called “The Novels of Virginia Woolf” – he is hoping to do more on there now that he is re-inspired! There are endless resources out there on Woolf (see below for a few links), but here Tony is giving his personal view of what he learned in reading A Room of One’s Own, and how it relates to Jane Austen.

*****

“Virginia Woolf Made a Reference to Jane Austen,”
by Tony Grant.

A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN by Virginia Woolf was first published in 1929. Woolf was invited in 1928 to give a talk to the female undergraduates at Girton College, Cambridge on the theme of women and fiction. She came up with the title for her talk as, A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN. The premise of her argument was that women needed a room of their own and time to write, provided by an independent income. Virginia Woolf suggested £500 a year.

Coincidently that was the same amount that an Aunt, who died in India, left Virginia Woolf in her will, allowing her to be independent of her husband. She was allowed time to think and write without the constraints of the straight jacket of wife, mother, and organizer of a great man’s home. She could afford a room of her own in which to write undisturbed. She argued that women writers in history had been far and few between because of the restrictions a patriarchal society put on them, a society that actively discouraged, insulted, and humiliated women’s abilities. Men thought that women were not capable of writing great fiction or write intelligently on any subject.

She references Aphra Behn, a playwright, poet and translator who lived in the 17th century, as the first woman writer to make money from writing. She goes on to explain that later in the 18th and 19th centuries, Jane Austen, The Brontës and George Elliot began to show what brilliant writers women can be, even if hidden behind anonymity or male pseudonyms. These few, early, great women writers were however, limited in their scope by their circumstances. Virginia Woolf’s hope is that a “Shakespeare’s Sister,” will emerge one day.

We are introduced to Mary Beton, her aunt who left Virginia the £500 per year inheritance and provided the means for her to become a writer; Mary Seton, a wife and mother who is constrained by her circumstances and has no chance of becoming a writer; Mary Carmichael, an author who does not write particularly well – her sentence structures are not those of Jane Austen, from whom she should have learned, but nonetheless begins to write about women in an extraordinary way from a woman’s perspective and begins to portray the subtleties of womanhood uninfluenced by a patriarchal society. These three characters represent three aspects of the lives of women.

Virginia Woolf’s bedroom at Monk’s House

Virginia Woolf argues that intellectual freedom depends upon the possession of material things (a room of one’s own and £500 per year), a good education and well-connected families. She thinks the education the poor receive will not raise them to equality with the upper levels of society. She decries that they will have no chance of their voice being heard. Women’s lives and the poor in society are a downtrodden second class group.

Nowadays there is a sort of worship and fan cult associated with Jane Austen. Virginia Woolf would be bemused and not understand this I think. Austen is a great writer, especially in exploring the relationships between men and women which is acutely highlighted in her writing because of the patriarchy of the 18th and 19th centuries.

But because of the constraints placed on by the male members of her family, no “room of her own,” and no independent income, Austen’s world was a very narrow world of drawing rooms. There was not enough global experience of women writers and women in other aspects of society, equal to that of men’s for Austen to build on. She was and is impressive for what she achieved, but she had her limitations. Austen was timid and protective about her writing. She didn’t experience life outside of a strict set of patriarchal boundaries. It does seem extraordinary nowadays there is so much fuss over her.

The aim for women writers, in the words of Virginia Woolf, is to become “Shakespeare’s Sister.” It must be said that Shakespeare did not have a sister as far as we know. What Virginia Woolf means is that in her view Shakespeare was the greatest male writer. He had the perfect balance of the “male-female” brain, creative and fertile with ideas derived from a wide experience of the world, male histories, male experiences and male writing through the centuries. If Shakespeare’s Sister had been able to become the female version of her brother, employing the “female male” brain alongside a wealth of women’s experiences in writing and society, we would have a female writer of equal brilliance and scope.

Virginia Woolf’s presentation to the Girton Undergraduates is nothing if not meant to encourage them all to become writers, not just of fiction but scientific treatises, histories, biographies, poetry, and more besides, because as Woolf states “books talk to books,” and with a rich history of women’s writing to draw on this “Shakespeare’s Sister” can finally emerge.

Jane Austen was a step along the way to the emergence of this “Shakespeare’s Sister.” Mary Carmichael, perhaps a pseudonym for Virginia Woolf herself, represents another important step along the way. They are only steps.

“Be yourself” is a slogan Virginia Woolf leaves her young female audience with. She describes what women need to do to become writers and become themselves: “They need to build their ideas and thoughts on those of other women.” She points out how near impossible it is to achieve that without an immense struggle and everyone doing their bit. Even ninety years later, Virginia Woolf’s treatise has a freshness about it.

Virginia Woolf’s writing shed, Monk’s House

*****

Thank you Tony for sharing your thoughts on Woolf and Austen! You can visit Tony’s regular blog “London Calling” here: http://general-southerner.blogspot.com/

Would love to hear your thoughts on A Room of One’s Own – do you think Woolf’s ideas remain relevant today? Do you agree that there was a dearth of women’s writing because of the patriarchal society and its subjugation of women? Since Woolf’s time there has been an ongoing effort to re-discover the early women writers that have been long forgotten, also a result of that subjugation, and many of these Woolf would have known nothing about. [You can visit the Library at Chawton House to read about many of these early authors: https://chawtonhouse.org/ – and especially the biographies and online novels].

Woolf references Austen in more than just A Room of One’s Own – she refers to Austen in many of her writings, and wrote several full-length essays – here are two.

  1. “Jane Austen” in The Common Reader (1925): http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0300031h.html#C11
  2. Woolf’s review of R. W. Chapman’s 1923 edition of Austen’s novels at The New Republic (1924): https://newrepublic.com/article/115922/virginia-woolf-jane-austen

For some commentary on Woolf’s opinion of Austen, see:

  1. This essay in Persuasions 12 (1990) by Judith Lee on Woolf reading Austen: http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/printed/number12/lee.htm
  2. Another essay in Persuasions On-Line 29.1 (2008) by Emily Auerbach, “The Geese vs. the “Niminy Piminy Spinster”: Virginia Woolf Defends Jane Austen”: http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol29no1/auerbach.html

I could go on… – there’s a veritable goldmine of information on Woolf and Austen out there!

Further reading:

[Images from Tony Grant]

c2019 Jane Austen in Vermont

Happy Birthday Jane Austen!

Today is Jane Austen’s birthday, 243 years ago!  To quote her father in his letter to his sister Mrs. Walter on Dec 17, 1775:

You have doubtless been for some time in expectation of hearing from Hampshire, and perhaps wondered a little we were in our old age grown such bad reckoners but so it was, for Cassey certainly expected to have been brought to bed a month ago: however last night the time came, and without a great deal of warning, everything was soon happily over. We have now another girl, a present plaything for her sister Cassy and a future companion. She is to be Jenny, and seems to me as if she would be as like Henry, as Cassy is to Neddy. Your sister thank God is pure well after it, and sends her love to you and my brother… (Austen Papers, 32-3)

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

In celebration of Austen’s birthday, we at the North American Friends of Chawton House Library announce the launching of the new website at https://www.nafch.org/. Please visit, read about our endeavors on the behalf of Chawton House, and by all means Donate – what better way to honor Jane Austen on her birthday than to give a little something in support of the “Great House” she visited often:

‘Let me thank you again and again’

Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice (1813)

2018, Jane Austen in Vermont

 

Jane Austen Genealogy ~ The Knight Family Name ~ by Ronald Dunning

UPDATE:  new images have been added!*

Gentle Readers:  I welcome again Ron Dunning on a bit of Jane Austen ancestry – the Knight name of Chawton and Godmersham.  We know that Thomas Knight and his wife adopted Edward Austen as a child, and passed on to him the landed estates they had inherited, both Chawton and Godmersham.  The name of the family eventually became Austen-Knight, but Ron shows us here how far back this connection went – one wonders how much Jane Austen would have actually known of this…**

*******************
Knight of Chawton and Godmersham

Presentation of Edward Austen to Thomas and Catherine Knight - wikipedia

Presentation of Edward Austen to Thomas and Catherine Knight – wikipedia

We all know the story of how, in 1779, the 12-year-old Edward Austen charmed Thomas Knight [our Thomas henceforth] of Godmersham, and his newly-married wife Catherine [Knatchbull], when they stopped at Steventon on their bridal tour – so much so that they asked his parents to allow them to take him with them for the rest of the trip. The Knights grew increasingly fond of him, with his sunny and uncomplicated nature, and followed on by inviting him to visit them in Godmersham. When, after a few years, it became apparent that they were unlikely to have any children of their own to inherit their property and fortune, they arranged with the Austens to adopt him, and to give him their surname. There was a family connection – our Thomas Knight and Edward’s father George Austen were second cousins, both descended from John Austen and Jane Atkins.

Thomas Knight, the younger, by Francis Cote – CHL  ~  Catherine Knatchbull Knight, print of portrait by George Romney

Godmersham 1779 - wikipedia

Godmersham 1779 – wikipedia

Transfers of property, fortunes, and surnames were already well established in the Knight Family and make it all very difficult to follow. So I have created the chart below to make it easier for me, and I hope that it helps others too.

So, looking at the chart [see below]:

Chawton House

Chawton House

Beginning on the left, the Knight family had been in possession of the manor of Chawton for some generations. It was inherited  by Dorothy Knight when the male line failed. According to the law of the time, her property, including the title to the estate, became the possession of her husband, Richard Martin. When they produced no children, it passed to Richard’s brother Christopher; when he too died, having remained unmarried, it was inherited by their sister Elizabeth and her two successive husbands. [Note that this line had all changed their name from Martin to Knight, before reaching our Thomas.]

Elizabeth left no children, and the property passed to a second cousin, Thomas Brodnax of Godmersham. In 1727, this Thomas changed his name by Act of Parliament to May, when he inherited property at Rawmere in Sussex from his mother’s childless cousin, Sir Thomas May. Then in 1736, on inheriting the Chawton estate, he changed his name again, to Knight.

Thomas Knight (a.k.a.Brodnax, May) – by Michael Dahl – CHL  ~  Jane Monk, by Michael Dahl

This Thomas Knight and his wife Jane Monk, who was an Austen descendant, produced at least ten children, of whom five were

Edward Austen Knight - austenonly

Edward Austen Knight – austenonly

boys. Only one, our Thomas (the second son of that name), survived childhood. Thomas enjoyed a long life of sixty years, and married Catherine Knatchbull [see portraits above]. When it became clear that they too would remain childless, they chose to adopt the young and affable Edward Austen, whose family were collateral descendants of Thomas’s great-great-grandparents, John and Jane [Atkins] Austen. On his death in 1794, Thomas Knight bequeathed Godmersham to Catherine, and all other properties to Edward; Catherine later moved to Canterbury and gave Edward the Godmersham estate at that time.

Confused? I too struggle to keep it all straight, so hopefully this chart helps.  There is one detail missing, which will necessitate some further research; that is the family connection between the Martin and the Brodnax families, who were said to be second cousins. Once the research is done I’ll amend the chart, but it won’t make any difference to the sequence of surnames and ownership as they are illustrated here.

It’s some time since I last added anything to the Jane Austen’s Family website. It struck me as a good idea to include a pedigree section; this is now the first chart:

knight-estates

 

It can be found at this link: http://www.janeaustensfamily.co.uk/pedigrees/knight/knight.index.html

 *****************

Thank you Ron! – if anyone has any questions [are you all sitting out there scratching your heads??], please ask Ron – he would be happy to answer anything you might put to him…!

Without all these family dynamics and the extensive trading of names and the adoption of Edward Austen, Jane Austen might never have had the chance to live and write at Chawton Cottage  [now the Jane Austen House and Museum]– and where would we all be without those six novels??

Chawton Cottage - astoft.co. uk

Chawton Cottage – astoft.co. uk

* The portraits of the Thomas Knights, Jane Monk, and Catherine Knight are all from Ancestry.com, with thanks to Ron for accessing these. You can read about the portrait artist Michael Dahl here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Dahl

** Ron has answered my question about whether Jane Austen knew about all these family connections:

Everyone – the Knights, Mr and Mrs Austen, Edward – knew incontrovertibly about the peregrinations at least back to the common descent from John and Jane Austen and, no doubt about the Mays too.  It’s inconceivable that they wouldn’t have discussed it all in front of Jane.

Do you have any questions for Ron?

c2014, Jane Austen in Vermont

Some Book Reviews of Note ~ All Things Austen

[These are some book notes and other Austen-related tidbits that I have picked up over the past few weeks ~ more book thoughts for holiday gift giving to be posted shortly, but this is a start]

samuel-johnson-coverTwo new books about Samuel Johnson are reviewed by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker in his article “Man of Fetters: Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Thrale” ~ Peter Martin, Samuel Johnson [Harvard, 2008] and Jeffery Meyers, Samuel Johnson: The Struggle [Basic, 2008]

 

 

Reginald Hill, The Price of Butcher’s Meat [Harper, 2008] … NYTimes Book Review with Marilyn Stazio; Hill does Jane Austen in this story, a la Austen’s unfinished novel Sanditon with a story about Sandytown- in Yorkshire, and with all the usual suspects and detectives.

reginaldhill-cover

Mrs. Beeton’s The Art of Cookery, noted on Regency Reader; another Mrs. Beeton read is the biography The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton, the First Domestic Goddess, by Kathryn Hughes [Knopf, 2006] and now available in paperback.  This study of Beeton also reveals much about the homelife of the Victorians.

beeton-cover

 

“Mrs. Woolf and the Servants: an intimate history of domestic life in Bloomsbury”  by Alison Light  [Bloomsbury Press, 2008].  Review at the NY Times by Claire Messud.

“Emily Post: Daughter of the Gilded Age, Mistress of American Manners”(Random House; $30), by Laura Claridge, is the first full-length biography of the author to appear. (Post’s son, Ned, published an affectionate, ghostwritten memoir, “Truly Emily Post,” back in 1961.)  Here is a review in The New Yorker by Elizabeth Kolbert.

 

madame-de-stael-coverMadame de Stael:  the first Modern Womanby Francine de Plessix Gray [Atlas, 2008].  Reviewed at Slate. by Stacey Schiff.

 

 

 

 

And this Our Life: Chronicles of the Darcy Family Book 1, by C. Allyn Pierson, and published by iuniverse, another sequel to Pride & Prejudice starting where P&P leaves off with Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s engagement and their first year of marriage.  See this article at the Wall Street Journal online.

A found diary of a Victorian woman has recently been published:  Ellen Tollet of Betley Hall by Mavis Smith.  Tollet was an upper class woman who lived in North Staffordshire in the 1800s, and the diary runs from 1835-1890.  Mavis Smith found the 160-year old manuscript hidden in the Shropshire library archives;  click here for more information and how to obtain a copy [Waterstones, Amazon.uk and local museums]

A new book on the cultural history of Reading, England gives a nod to Jane Austen as she went to school there.  See this article in the BBC Berkshire site.

The University of Manchester Library announces the acquisition of the Gaskell – Green letters (link is to Rare Book Review), adding to their already extensive Elizabeth Gaskell collection.  “The Gaskell – Green family (Gaskell’s friend Mary Green and Mary’s daughter Isabella) letters offer fascinating insight into Cheshire town daily life, the place where Gaskell had grown up in the first half of the nineteenth century, and which she later immortalised in her novel Cranford.”

The short story competition sponsored by the Chawton House Library will have Sarah Waters, author of Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith(faboulous read by the way!), as the chair of the judging panel. “The competition is aimed at raising the profile of the library, which is home to a collection of books by early English women writers. The library is part of Chawton House, home to Jane Austen’s brother Edward.  The shortlisted stories will be published as an anthology, Dancing with Mr Darcy, by independent publishers Honno in October 2009. First prize is £1000 plus a week’s writer’s retreat at Chawton House.”

chawton-house-library

Chawton House

 [See this article at Bookseller.com as well as the Chawton House Library site for information on the competition.]

 Here are a few blogs of note, lately discovered:

  •  Idolising Jane authored by Old Fogey, asks some telling questions about Austen…see the blogfor some thoughtful posts [and with thanks to Ms. Place at Jane Austen Today]

 

  • Catherine Delors, historical novelist and author of Mistress of the Revolution, authors a wonderful blog titled Versailles and More, a visual feast of life during the French Revolution and 18th century France.  Today, Ms. Delors offers a post on Saint Nicholas, the True Santa Claus.