Tuesday, 13 August 2019


Jane Austen’s England by Karin Quint was first published in Dutch in 2014. It was first published in English  in 2017 as a limited edition for Karin's backers crowdfunding the project to translate her book into English and now  in 2019, the paperback version in English has just come out. The text was written by Karin Quint in Dutch and translated into English by Karen Holt. Karin, took most of the photographs but there are acknowledgements to various other photographers for some of the pictures. 
The first page, after the publishing details, we are presented with a full page picture of the sign on the outer wall of Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton. A fitting start to a guide book about Jane Austen’s England. A guide book based on the theme of Jane Austen in a way portrays England itself as a museum, through its old houses, its countryside . its villages and its roads as well as its inhabitants, as a vast museum to Jane Austen. A fitting metaphor for what is to follow in this book. The reverse side of this page is a full page picture looking along the Cob seawall at Lyme Regis in Dorset with Charmouth cliffs on the other side of the bay in the distance. This is the setting of one of the most dramatic scenes in an Austen novel. It is where Louisa Musgrove falls and suffers  concussion in the novel Persuasion and all the dramatic action that follows from that incident. Apart from the scene in Persuasion the actual portrayal of the picture, a hard stone wall depicting ruggedness, stability and protection from the elements, a calm sea, blue skies and soft thin horses tails clouds , a mixture of beauty, softness and strength. A few Austen characters and relationships come to mind. Very often in this guide book the pictures, bright and colourful, are well considered.
The contents page has 14 sections, each colour coded. Within the book itself, the pages for each section are edged by the colour of the section they are part of. A guide book is not something to be read cover to cover like a novel it’s a book to be used in sections and parts and not necessarily in order. You might want to focus on ,”London and surroundings,” or perhaps ,”Hampshire and surroundings.” The colour coding for each part helps you keep to the parts you want to focus on. This is a great way to organize the book I think. It is clear and simple to negotiate.
I like Karin’s short introduction. She tells us how she became interested in Jane Austen at first in her early twentys, finding a copy of Pride and Prejudice and falling in love with Austen ever since. So many Jane Austen blogs and Facebook sites have articles about how and why and when people got hooked on Austen. It is a  fascinating subject to explore. We all should think about why we like something, why we believe in something. Some self analysis does us good I think. In her introduction Karin goes on to explain how people who knew of her interest in Austen and knew about her Austen travels in Britain began to ask her for advice on visiting Jane Austen sites  and hence the guide book was born.
Before Karin begins to take us around Britain in search of everything Jane Austen, she provides us with two sections,” Jane Austen’s Life,” and ,”England in Austen’s Time.” Karin provides the reader with a thorough overview of Jane Austen’s life. It informs the person who knows nothing or very little but it  is enjoyable to read for the person who knows Austen’s life well. Karin’s style is personal and enjoyable to read. She gives us her opinion and writes in a style where you can imagine her talking to you. I felt at times, reading various parts of this guide book, I was answering Karin, agreeing and disagreeing inside my thoughts and head. We were having a conversation together.It is a warm and personal style.  “She had a sharp and ironic sense of humour.” “ Even worse, she was ambitious.” Karin is explaining here why she thinks Austen might have put off potential suitors. I like this emotive style.

The picture of The Cob at Lyme followed by the contents page.

The section about ,”England in Austen’s Time,” gives us the background history to what Britain was getting up to in the world while her characters flirt, converse and relate to each other. Some of it Austen alludes to within her writing. The plantations in the west Indies mentioned in Mansfield Park for instance. Other scenes are able to happen because of events in the wider world. I am thinking here of Royal Naval Captains Harville, Benwick and Wentworth ashore on leave to pursue relationships on land after the defeat of Napoleon. Karin finishes this section with a discussion of ,”The position of women.” It is impossible to say Jane Austen was a feminist but she certainly portrayed strong women with minds of their own. Karin writes about the role of,” old maids,” those who never marry, in a positive and life affirming way. Of course Austen herself was set on becoming an ,”old maid,” I f she hadn’t died at the age of 41. Karin also informs us about the first feminists such as Mary Wollstencroft. Does this make this guide book a feminist guide book?  Karin and her type of guide book rises all the time in my estimation as her voice within this guide progresses.
In the main body of the guide book, there are nine regional sections.  “Hampshire and surroundings,” which is the area Austen was born, lived most of her life and died in, “Reading,Oxford, Cheltenham and surroundings,” “London and surroundings,” “Kent, Surrey and surroundings,””Bath, Salisbury and surroundings,” “The southwest coast,””Central England,””The Peak District and Surroundings,” and “Yorkshire.” I like the way Karin uses the word ,surroundings, in many of these titles. It shows she has a broader understanding of the wider importance of an area and the  interlinking of places within an area that Jane’s experience of visiting an area must have encompassed. Using this guide book we don’t just get an understanding of a single place Jane Austen would have visited but an understanding of an area as she herself would have done. “Yorkshire,”a single word  title, made me laugh. Perhaos Karin has an understanding of the mindset of a Yorkshire person? Yorkshire men and women think they live in ,” Gods own Country,” and are different form the rest of us anyway.
Karin uses quotes from Janes letters where they are applicable to a place and when Jane describes her experinces in that place. She quotes from Janes poetry and provides memorable quotes from her novels where they reference a place, the party from Highbury on Boxhill for instance or Fanny Prices Portsmouth  or Catherine Morlands Bath. I am thinking Beechan Cliff especially. A place  that when you yourself stand at the top and look back northwards over Bath you get an overview of Bath itself. A symbol for what Karin is providing for us in this guide.

A map showing the area around Oxford that Jane Austen visited. This type of map  provides a great overview of an area and shows the relation of different places to each other.

I must admit I do like a good lively discussion. There are a few places in this guide when I want to argue with Karin and I suppose, in my head I do. One example is this: Karin does not think much of the one novel Jane began while living in Bath and abandoned, The Watsons. I feel she tries to dismiss it. However, I do not have the same opinion. The Watsons is a forensic analysis of that social phenomena, The Ball. The main part of the action takes place at a ball held at an inn in Dorking High Street, possibly The White Horse. Jane Austen goes into great detail about the local families, members of the gentry and  aristocracy that are expected to attend and do attend. Everybody from the poor Watsons, to the better off Edwards and a long list of country families are mentioned. When you think about it the situation at this ball is a microcosm of the whole of society itself. Set in Surrey all strata’s of society attend and observe each other and in many cases socialize together. This is what Bath was too, on a much larger scale of course, a temporary place for all strata’s of society to intermingle before going back to their usual existences within their own social groups. Often this brought about a loosening of morals. When you are not known in a place and everybody else is uknown to each other and only get to meet for a fleeting time, things can happen. Maybe this is why Austen both hated Bath and at the same time it provided her a place that offered  many dramatic encounters. There are balls in Pride and Prejudice, Emma and in Northangar Abbey and they have their importance to the way those novel work. They provide situations for the characters to interrelate in ways they can’t in other situations. “The Watsons,” is a little  different though. The ball in The Watsons is an extensive analysis of the social phenomena that was the ball. It is an important piece of writing. Although Jane abandoned it I think she used what she analysed in The Watsons perhaps in Emma to a certain extent. There you go, I have got that off my chest, Karin. See what I mean by Karin’s style encouraging discussion and sometimes creating a descent into an argument.   I feel better now!
Sometimes, where applicable, Karin uses quotations to start a description of a place. Take Alton for example. Karin quotes a letter Jane wrote to Cassandra, in 1813. “ I walked to Alton and dirt excepted, found it delightful.” So we have Jane telling us about Alton. Then we have Karin providing us with information and this section continues with a thorough discussion about the people and places Jane knew and visited or shopped at in Alton. I like Karin’s chatty style” A bit up the road at number 31 is The |Old House with Lenten cottage next to it.” Then again Karin writes, “ Back in the High Street at The Swan Hotel..” And so we are taken around Alton in a  friendly way with a personal tone. I like that. It makes the reader, and certainly me, feel comfortable and at home as though we are walking along with a friend. This style permeates the guide book.
Once in a while a whole page is devoted to an historical or topical background. In the section, “The South Coast,” as an example, a pink shaded page, pink being the colour code for this section, tells us about how Mapperton manor house, in Dorset, whichwas used in the 1996 film adaptaion  of  Emma and then Karin informs us about other films Mapperton has been featured in. In,” London and surroundings,” section a pale blue shaded page is devoted to discussing the controversy over several alleged portraits  made of Jane in her lifetime. These coloured sections add extra depth and detail and discussion to our experience of this guide.

A smaller local map of Winchester. I don't think this type of map provides enough detail.

There are seventeen maps interspersed throughout the guide book. These are of varying quality. The maps such as the, “Kent Surrey surroundings,” on  show a large area of the South East of England. This type of map shows many of the key locations in an area and they provide an important overview of an area. However the maps such as the Winchester map, on page 65 focusing on a small area in Winchestr where Jane sites are located is too vague. I have learned from experience in some of the great cities of the world using this type of map does not help me get around, The main streets are named but many of the smaller thoroughfares are just vague lines on the paper. When you are actually on the ground in the very location these type of maps do not help. I suppose using google maps on your phone or buying a local map in a newsagent is what you should do. However, I really do feel that a guide book of this high quality should have more detailed maps showing local areas. A fold out map would work. I can’t see myself walking around a place I don’t know with one of these style maps to help me.
Following the main body of the guide book there are three more sections, The first is named “Three Jane Austen Road Trips. “ The road trips are detailed and well presented  , two feature  the locations used in two different adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, (1995 and 2005). They describe trips for both films of five days in length. The mileage covered is worked out and the time taken on each day  spent at a given place or on a given walk is suggested.A short description of each days trip is given too. The third trip describes seven days in Hampshire visiting Jane sites. These three trips will give any visitor a more than thorough introduction and immersion into the world of Jane Austen, especially the Hampshire tour I think.
The section section at the back, named, “Film locations,” provides what it says on the label.It lists the names of places featured in ten different films covering all of Janes finished novels including adaptations of  Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Persuasion, Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey.Then of course there are the ,”spin off, “ adaptaions, “Becoming Jane ,” “Miss Austen Regrets,”” Lost in Austen,” and I could name them all but I am sure you know them  yourselves. Nobody will be disappointed. Not one is left out. However, having said that, Sanditon is on the horizon. Karin is going to have to make another visit to England and reference the locations for the new film. Ah Lady Susan is missing too but that came out before the first Dutch edition, so can’t be helped. It is difficult to keep up! The page references  next to the film locations provide page numbers directing the reader to where in the  body of the text that place is explored.  You can cross reference  the locations within the book.

One of the shaded pages providing extra detailed information on a given topic.

The third section in this final part is titled, “Further reading and information.” This is where I get embarrassed and realise the paucity of my Austen reading. Out of the six reference books I must admit I only have three of them. I do have others not mentioned. However, it is at this point I make myself promises to delve further into reading about Jane Austen.
The final pages of the book cover tourist information that include hotels and bed and breakfast in each location covered in the book. There is also a list of research resources. Yes, I must read more. I have said that already . Some short biographical notes about Janes immediate family and  about , what Karin terms her secondary family, people such as Jane’s good friend Martha Lloyd. This section could of course be extended. Two pages at the back provide us with a clearly displayed  family tree and lastly after some heartfelt acknowledgements to people who have supported Karin, a through clearly paid out index.

This is a lovely book and I will refer to it often I am sure. As with any Janite, I am on a journey, deepening my knowledge and interest in Jane Austen as the years go by. This book has helped me one more step along the way. There are places in it that I know well but probably more places are featured  that I have only heard about and now feel emboldened to make an effort and go and see them. A first timer to the world of Austen will become an expert in Jane Austen in no time reading Karin’s enjoyable guide. An old hand like myself can only be reinvigorated and reinspired. An expert or somebody who wants to delve deep is provided with a guide to just that.

Reference: JANE AUSTEN’S ENGLAND A Travel Guide by Karin Quint published by ACC Art Books (2019)

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

A REVIEW OF, ”JANE &ME, My Austen Heritage,” (pub 2017) by Caroline Jane Knight, Jane Austen’s Fifth Great-Niece

Image result for Jane &Me My Austen heritage by Caroline Jane Knight

Caroline Jane Knight, the fifth great niece of Jane Austen, descending from jane Austen’s third eldest brother Edward who was adopted by the Knight family of Chawton in Hampshire, has written an autobiography, “Jane & Me, My Austen Heritage,” relating her experiences as a descendent of the Knights.  Jane &Me provides us with an account of a personal life in turns, jolly, depressing, desperate and antique in nature and  at first it makes you wonder why anybody outside her immediate group of friends and family would ever want to read it. What makes Jane & Me unique though and is something for all to read is not merely Caroline Knights connection to Jane Austen, which is of interest, it is the underlying analysis of how the gentry can possibly survive in the 21st century, adapting to a more meritocratic society and  the creation of an equal society. This is important because the gentry and aristocratic parts of our society have been with us  for so long although their past ways of living might not be relevant now, they are still around and it is interesting to find out how they might contribute to a modern society. Most politicians pronounce bold statements about creating an equal society and often try and fail in their attempts. We all struggle with the  issues of equality, in education, opportunity and class and politicians fail to agree on methods and approaches. Maybe the old aristocratic families can be part of the solution? Our society is going through a tumultuous period. One of the major issues is patriarchy, whether in religion , government, business or family and attempts to eradicate that side of our world. This must be doubly difficult for the gentry who have always been organized on patriarchy. If they can do it so can we.

There have been many scholarly biographies written about Jane Austen over the centuries since her death including by her own ancestors and members of her family.  Jane Austen’s niece Caroline Austen wrote,”My Aunt Jane Austen,a Memoir,” in 1867, first published by the Jane Austen Society in 1952. The much quoted “A Memoir of Jane Austen,” (1870) by James Edward Austen-Leigh, was the first true biography of Jane Austen. William Austen Leigh and George Montague Knight wrote and published ,”Chawton Manor and Its Owners,” in 1911.  Mary Augusta Austen Leigh published, “Personal Aspects of Jane Austen,” in 1920.  Caroline Jane Knight is the most recent member of the Knight and Austen family,  to write  a book referencing her great Aunt Jane and the Chawton estate. There are also a multitude of academic biographies  about Jane Austen, among the most recent being ,”Jane Austen. A Life,” by Claire Tomlin.

 Caroline and myself on the Jane Austen Foundation walk for literacy in Chawton.

When I first started reading Jane &Me, it was very nice  to learn about the members of Carolines present family, her brother, Paul, her mother, Carol and her father, Jeremy , Bapops, her grandfather( Edward Knight III)  her Granny, their family traditions, their worries and concerns about the Chawton estate and learning about their family traditions and lineage. It all began to pall, however. This was all personal family anecdotes, and I began to think, why is this of interest to me? Caroline Jane Knights connection with Jane Austen was not going to sustain my interest for very long.

However, the important elements of this autobiography to me are Caroline’s   struggles with her own responses to being part of a family that is part of the  gentry. Her family has lost its financial resources and also its built heritage. These are issues many families among the gentry and indeed the aristocracy  are experiencing and having to battle with. The Knights no longer own Chawton House or any of the other properties once connected to the Knight family. Her uncle Richard, her father’s elder brother and first born, is the inheritor of the Chawton estate and retains the freehold of Chawton House although the leasehold has been sold. The Knights cannot claim full ownership again for one hundred years.  What relevance have the gentry classes nowadays? What role can they play in todays world making it a fairer and more equal society? Are they a barrier to real social progress in this country?

One of the most poignant aspects of Carolines autobiography is the description of her relationship with her grandfather. She hardly  knows him although they lived in the same house in close proximity all of Carolines formative years. They had very few conversations. In Carolines eyes he was seen as an autocratic head of the family and she felt she had a lowly status,  hardly acknowledged by her grandfather. In her youth Caroline describes a curious world that is a mixture of 18th century customs mixed with the modern world invading it and seemingly making life for Caroline an unhappy and perhaps a difficult contradictory world to negotiate. She does put a positive sheen on it all but you sense that she struggles to do so.

Jane Austen's cottage in Chawton, her final home.

The strength of this book lies in the journey Caroline goes through to make her life and her families life relevant today in the 21st century. The book is really worth reading to help us, who are not of aristocratic decent, to understand that other world, the painful struggles that are going on within a group in our society that is trying to adapt and fit into a world of  different  social norms.

The weakness in the book is brought about by Caroline being too close  to what she writes about.  This appears as an inability and even refusal  by Caroline to delve too deeply. She makes guesses and assumptions as to what happened to the family wealth and property. The sort of assumptions she would have made privately as a teenager and not been able to discuss openly. Maybe she doesn’t want to know how the Knight estate collapsed and became impoverished. She knows it has happened, she is in the midst of it but an impartial writer might have delved much deeper. There must be county council records, estate sales advertisements, documents held with the family solicitors; the  sale of property leaves a paper trail. The society that produced a grandfather who was the head of a patriarchal family should have been examined much more. She doesn’t analyse too deeply. To us she had a distant and  strange relationship with her grandfather. Maybe it would be too hard and painful for Caroline to examine that? Her parents move from Chawton Great House to a small house in the nearby town of Alton which is more of a relief to the family than a great loss. Caroline  realises that her parents feel the weight of responsibility lifted off their shoulders.There seems to be an acceptance that their past history is now too big a burden. Again this is not analysed too deeply and the consequences are not explored.

We hear about the life Caroline then begins to lead. In the late 1980s and early 1990s she is a typical young woman  enjoying parties, getting various temporary jobs and trying to have fun while she rejects and forgets her heritage. She does a good job at that, not ever letting anybody know her background, almost, one feels blocking it from her own consciousness. Eventually Caroline is strong enough, independent enough to become successful as a business woman,  moving to Australia to further her career.What she has achieved  has been achieved on merit and hard work. She has not relied on contacts, family or her position in life through birth. I get the impression, reading her book,she is proud to have achieved  success on  equal terms to anybody born into an ordinary family.

The time came when the name Jane Austen, took on a new powerful  relevance. Colin Firth became Fitzwilliam Darcy and Pride and Prejudice, the 1995 TV series,  stormed the world leading to many other Jane Austen film adaptations, festivals, spin off novels and a growth in Jane Austen societies the world over. Jane has become big business. Caroline describes how her father contacted her after talking to an Australian fan of Jane Austen visiting Chawton Cottage. He became aware of the things done in the name of Jane Austen. He informed Caroline about this and Caroline began to formulate an idea. She eventually feels she wants to reveal her ancestral identity to her best friend and work colleague Amanda Mortensen. She attends Jane Austen conferences and events in Australia.

At one point in Jane &Me, Caroline refers to a visit she made to Longleat, the home of the Marquess of Bath. Longleat has become a big business. It has a Safari Park and its grounds are used for all sorts of events. Longleat House is open to the public all the year round and guided tours reveal its important and interesting history. This is the way many large estates remain financially viable these days. The National Trust and English Heritage look after and promote many more. These old estates have become  commercial enterprises. Caroline muses that Chawton couldn’t go along the same lines. It is too small and the land is no longer her families to use how they want. Chawton Great House is open to the public, but this is on a much smaller scale  than a place such as Longleat. Chawton has now been developed as a library of early women’s writing and is a research centre allied to Southampton University.   Caroline  envisaged creating a Jane Austen Foundation with the aim of promoting reading and writing in impoverished communities around the world. She saw her connections with Jane Austen as a force to help change the world and improve peoples lot. I think something Jane Austen herself would approve of. With the aid of Amanda, the foundation was set up.
The ability to read and write opens all sorts of possibilities to people. They grow in confidence and can communicate effectively. These are powerful attributes and necessary to creating an equal society and a meritocratic society. We come back to how the gentry and aristocracy of old can contribute and be a part of the world we live in nowadays striving for an equal society. The Longleat model turns our past into a type of funfair experience. Caroline’s model of using her heritage to promote learning is really far more effective and important to society as a whole and one small step to creating that equal society.

Janites gathering in St Nicholas churchyard in Chawton at the end of the Jane Austen Foundation walk for literacy.

Caroline’s book , Jane & Me is worth reading, the good and bad, because it is unique in that somebody born into the gentry explains the pain and disruption herself and her family have gone through to  adapt to the modern world.  She demonstrates  how she can use her family and legacy to help, perhaps in a small way, develop an equal society. We should not ignore our past history. We can learn from it and use it to develop our future. I think this is what Caroline is doing and explores the process she has hit on in this book. Her literacy foundation is putting her aims into action. The Jane Austen Foundation is working with Worldreader to develop reading in Ghanaian schools and helping, through Worldreader too, to develop effective reading habits within Indian families.  The foundation also has a number of Literacy mentors, volunteers, who give positive support to children with their writing. This is done through an organization called, Pobble. Fifteen percent of the cost of Jane &Me goes to help support and finance the work of the Jane Austen Foundation. During the, Alton, Jane Austen Festival, held in June each year, the foundation also makes money through a sponsored walk, a grand dinner in the Great House, a picnic lunch and through various other events here in Britain and also in Australia.  

 “Jane & Me, My Austen Heritage,” ( published 2017) by Caroline Jane Knight, Jane Austen’s fifth great niece.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019


Caroline Jane Knight , founder of ,"The Jane Austen Literacy Foundation," and Susannah Harker waiting to lead us off on the walk.

On Sunday 23rd June, at noon, a whole crowd of Regency attired people gathered at Jane Austen’s Cottage in the village of Chawton in Hampshire a few miles north of Winchester. We waited next to the famous signpost that points its ,”fingers,” four ways, to the," CAR PARK," to the ."VILLAGE HALL," to ,"Jane Austen’s House," and finally, to "St Nicholas Church and Chawton House," paired on a single finger. A colourful, flamboyant gathering with the sole purpose, to make money.
 It was a year and a week since a smaller group had gathered in the same spot for the first Jane Austen Parade for Literacy. Then we made money to finance, teacher training, e-readers and an electronic library for Suhum School in Ghana. I remember walking along with Ruth Sorby from WORLDREADER and talking about the Suhum project. That day  was a great success.

 "Mr and Mrs Bingley," await their departure in the garden of Jane's cottage.

I met Ruth Sorby again this year. She is the manager of UK development, generating new donor engagement and fundraising.  This time the Jane Austen Foundation is supporting WORLDREADER, to provide mothers and fathers in the Delhi district  with a phone app that accesses reading materials to support their pre-school children with reading. The project sounds simple enough but reading to children at home  is a lost tradition in India and despite significant literacy level improvements, still many parents can’t read themselves.   A   campaign of advertising, education and promotion has been put in place by WORLDREADER. Much research has shown that if parents read to children at home from an early age, those children perfom better at school and are more engaged with learning earlier than children who are not read to at home. Reading and talking to your child, asking questions and answering their questions, is a vital learning process. It is also a  way that parents can build rich relationships and positive bonds with their children. A  research programme involving qualitative and quantitative research has been carried out by WORLDREADER. The quantitative research relates to the numbers of apps accessed by families and the number of families using them and how often. The qualitative research is of more value in interpreting the benefits of this project. By interviewing mothers, observing families and engaging with focus groups WORLDREADER can assess the actual impact of using the reading apps. In a pilot scheme this research shows the undoubted progress children are making. There are many motivating factors to get this project financed and put into action. The sooner the better.

Pond Cottages.
So, there we all were. Most were dressed like the characters depicted on the front of a tin of Quality Street, prepared to put our best foot forward. The numbers of us gathered this year had undoubtedly increased because of Caroline Jane Knight’s hard work, and creative instincts. Many of us bought a ,”sandwich box,” ticket   from the ,”Jane Austen Regency Week,” office in Alton and were looking forward to eating our Regency repast, designed and sourced by Caroline, on the lawns of Chawton House at the end of todays walk. The picnic was an innovation Caroline introduced this year and  helped increase our numbers and in the process fill our coffers with more needed money. Some had also gained sponsorship to  walk, like last year. In the interim twelve months Caroline has been contacting people of fame and renown. Susannah Harker, Jane Bennet in the 1995 production of Pride and Prejudice, some think the best adaptation ever made, was invited to become a Jane Austen Foundation Ambassador which she readily accepted. Susannah  graced our walk on Sunday and was introduce  by Caroline before we started off.  Caroline and Susannah lead the way beginning at Jane’s Cottage and walking to the Great House, about a ten minutes walk. It was such a pleasant day, our surroundings were  verdant. Plenty of rain and sunshine over recent weeks had ensured England , in the words of William Blake, were indeed “A green and pleasant land.”The poem this is taken from , an addition Blake made to his poem about Milton, would be an apt anthem reflecting the work of the foundation. Of course, "Jerusalem,” would be a metaphor for a society of literate people.Our surroundings were so pleasant, the sun shone and the company so amiable I think we took our time and extended the experience somewhat.

Three elegant ladies on their way to The Great House.
I was very pleased to meet people I have known for years as a blogger and frequent reader and commentator on Austen blogs and Facebook pages, people I have had lengthy conversations online. Meeting them for the first time in the flesh was quite an experience. You feel you know somebody well but all of a sudden you are meeting them for the first time. This happened to me meeting Rita Watts from Boston. Rita has been very supportive of my blog and what I write about the world of Jane Austen. Then all of a sudden Anna Bhawan introduced herself to me.It feels as though Anna and I have known each other for years but we have never met before.  It was great meeting Jacqui, the manager of the Literacy Mentors, over from Melbourne and also Emile Belinde the editor of ,”Pride and Possibilities ,” who I have messaged back and forth on a number of occasions. Odette Snell and Karin Quint both asked me my surname when they heard me called Tony. I replied, “ I am Tony Grant.” They both lit up. They knew me. Wow! How surprising is that?  Many others who were attending on the day I had met the previous year and it was great to meet everybody again.

Climbing roses in an English Country garden.

Our walk the previous year started  at Janes Cottage and followed the route Jane, her family and Chawton villagers would have taken north west to Alton , about a two mile walk. This time the route was from the cottage again  but passed south east through the village to The Great House which Jane’s brother, Edward Knight, had inherited from his adoptive family the Knights. It is a strange and thrilling experience  following the footsteps of Jane Austen. We walked through the physical space she would have passed through and trod the very ground Jane would have trod. Jane often walked to the great house to sometimes stay overnight and certainly to eat at her brother’s house. We also passed many of the cottages that people Jane knew lived in. Jane’s cottage is at a road junction. In her time one road lead to Winchester and the one passing the driveway to The Great house lead on to Gosport on the coast near Portsmouth. A modern bypass avoids the village nowadays. 

There was a pond, in Jane’s time at this junction near the cottages, beside a house called Chawton Lodge. A family called the Hintons lived here. Jane’s niece Fanny Austen, one of Edward’s daughters, mentions a Miss Hinton calling at The Great House. Just round the corner on The Winchester Road, in a rundown labourers cottage,  poor Miss Benn lived. She was the unwitting  first audience to Pride and Prejudice read to her by Jane and Cassandra. Jane worried about Miss Benn a lot and mentions her in her letters more than any other villager in Chawton.

Jeremy Knight, Caroline's father, escorting two ladies.
We walked on past Pond Cottages, where William Littleworth who was manservant to the Austens lived. We passed Park View Cottages where William Carter and Thomas Appleford, whose wife Mary gave birth to ten children, resided. There was trouble of various sorts with the inhabitatnts of these cottages. The Adams were another family living here.
On October 21st1813, Jane Wrote
““We are all very glad to hear that the Adams are gone…”
I wonder what could have gone amiss?
Orchard Cottages came next in our walk where Abraham Knight and William Carter and their respective families had lived. The next set of cottages, Malthouse Cottages, are  extremely picturesque. In front of each is a quintessential English Country Garden. Climbing roses trail and wind around the doors, and numerous tall spikes of hollyhocks, vibrant with various colours are massed in front of the cottages . 

We turned left into the long elegant driveway leading up to the Great House. I could see a long line of top hatted gentlemen and bonneted ladies stretching down the gravel drive in front of me. We arrived in the churchyard of St Nicholas Church,  and gathered round the statue of Jane positioned in front of the church door. We had plenty of time for a photoshoot. There were  quite a few visitors standing and looking at us. I asked a bearded  gentleman in a pink shirt to take some pictures with my camera, which he duly did.

Gathered beside Jane's statue outside St Nicholas Church.

From the churchyard we walked up to the lawn next to The Great House. I talked to Odette Snel and Karin Quint , both from  the Netherlands. Karen has just published a book entitled “ Jane Austen’s England, A Travel Guide.” I wondered at the amount of research Karen must have done. Jane had many aunts and uncles and cousins  and she, her sister and mother seemed forever travelling around the country visiting them all. Karen knows the family tree and locations of every Austen family member and relation. Quite some feat. I noticed Karen had her right arm in a wrist brace. She told me that she had inflamed tendons from handwriting. Astounding!

A picnic on the lawn.
When we all arrived on the lawn at the side of the Great House a queue had begun to form stretching behind the house to the kitchen area  where  the sandwich boxes were handed out. I was given a pink sticker to show I had exchanged my voucher for a sandwich box.  Anna Bhawan and I had walked along together talking and setting the world to rights. We have been commenting on each others blogs for  nine years.I  remember Anna telling me about the births of her two children.They are both at school now.The eldest is seven years old. Anna's blog is called, "Austenised." She writes excellent articles, with photographs, about her adventures visiting places that were part of Jane Austen's life.   We sat with Mira Magdo on her ample sized rug and ate our sandwiches. Caroline Jane Knight  sourced the food to represent what might have been eaten in the 18th century, perhaps at the infamous Box Hill picnic  in Jane Austen’s Emma. There was a pork and quail egg pie, a wholemeal roll with cheese and ham and a sweet custard tart on a pastry base decorated with strawberries. To help it all go down a cup of home made lemonade was provided.

While we sat and ate this repast we were entertained by ,”The Pineapple Appreciation Society.” 

Playing, "The Graces," with a form of badminton and skittles going on in the background.
Sophie Andrews introduced us to a series of 18th century sports, young ladies would have participated in such as skittles, a form of badminton and a skillful game, designed to improve a young ladies balance and grace of  movement called, “The Graces.” Afterwards another member of the society sang beautifully a few songs that had featured in various Jane Austen film adaptations. This was followed by Alison Larkin reading the opening chapter of Caroline’s Knights autobiography, “Jane Austen and Me My Austen Heritage.”

Alison Larkin reading from ,"Jane and Me."
She began, “ Christmas Eve was my favourite night of the year at Chawton House and Christmas 1986 was no exception.” Alison is a very good actress and she imbued the words with an inner sense and meaning through her expression and tone. The feelings Caroline must have experienced herself. Two very good readers each read extracts from Sophie Andrews new book, “Be More Jane. Bring out your inner Austen to meet life’s challenges.” Good advice gleaned from the characters in Jane’s novels. The illustrations, by Jane Odiwe in Sophie’s book are excellent. Susannah Harker and her sister Nelly read some of their new two person play “The Austen Sisters,” featuring Jane and Cassandra,to the great delight of the picnickers gathered.

Anna Bhawan and myself with Susannah  Harker.
The afternoon was coming to an end and it was time to say my goodbyes before returning to South London. I had had a most enjoyable day and much money had been collected to help support the five public day care centers in Delhi called Anganwadi, that encourage, teach and support parents to interact with their children. I had a final chat with Amanda Mortensen, Caroline’s friend and co-founder of the foundation. We briefly talked about how well the day had gone and I assured Amanda that I would be back next year. Personally I am looking forward to reading more children’s writing and giving them positive feedback. Having been a teacher for forty years, being a Literacy Mentor for the foundation is something I know how to do and I hope, in this way, I can make a useful contribution to the great work Caroline has begun.

“Jane and Me . My Austen Heritage,” by Caroline Jane Knight ( Jane Austen’s fifth great niece.)
“Be More Jane. Bring out your inner Austen to meet life’s challenges.” By Sophie Andrews
“Jane Austen’s England, A travel Guide.” By Karen Quint
Milton ( And did those feet in Ancient Time) by William Blake
“Jane Austen’s Letters,” Collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye
"Jane Austen and Chawton," by Jane Hurst ( A walk around Jane Austen’s Chawton.)
"AUSTENISED" a blog written by Anna Bhawan  https://austenised.blogspot.com

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

VAN GOGH AND BRITAIN (Tate Britain 27th March – 11th August 2019)


The main entrance to the Tate Britain is reached by ascending the grand stone steps from Millbank. The Thames flowing in the foreground. The entrance to special exhibitions is by way of the side entrance in Atterbury Street, opposite The Chelsea School of Art. This entrance is reached by way of a sloping ramp to the underground level. Along the smooth limestone wall that faces this entrance has been placed a  a large elongated poster advertising the new Van Gogh exhibition. The self portrait of Van Gogh used in the poster is the portrait he painted in 1889, possibly in Arles and most likely the last of his self-portraits. Van Gogh painted forty self-portraits. The self-portrait advertising this exhibition is an intense painting. The eyes, are piercing, and yet have a fragility; a nervousness showing in them. He appears unsure and intense at the same time. The air around the face is dark, vibrating, flowing like a stream of black water surrounding him. The skin colours on his face, bright yellows and pale greens, created with swirling brush strokes, ripple and move like the watery air around it. His hair on the top of his head flames bright red and his beard and moustache almost radiate a heat; the same flaming intensity. The person who painted this is experiencing every atom of himself, every nerve ending is alive  through his skin, his thoughts, the air around him, his hearing and his sight.and enlivened imagination,  All his senses are utilized in creating this portrait and you see the visual evidence. Everything has been transmitted to the canvas through those penetrating eyes and energized brush strokes. He has captured his inner life and a sense of life and aliveness itself.

The exhibition is in two parts, firstly Van Gogh's experience in London and its effects on him as an artist is covered and secondly the exhibition reveals the impact Van Gogh had on British artists especially in the early twentieth century up to the1950s. The radical ideas of religion and politics that was thriving in London when Van Gogh arrived encouraged his interest in religion and his  concern for working class people. As well as working in the art trade he tried teaching and preaching as career paths.


For an exhibiton about Van Gogh there are a considerable number of prints, illustrations and paintings that are by other artists. These were of great importance to Van Gogh ‘s development as an artist. British print makers showed subjects dramatized with light and shade and provided unusual and new ways of composition. Van Gogh studied all these aspects carefully. There are many examples of the pictures Van Gogh was interested in  such as, prints by Gustav Dore that include prints of Lambeth Gas Works, Houndsditch, St Katherines Dock, The Houses of Parliament by Night and a sketch entitled, Coffee Stall- Early Morning. Although Van Gogh was not an artist at this time of his life, in letters to friends and family he often included sketches of places he saw. He was a good writer too. His letters home were detailed and covered art ,and religion as well as recounts of his activities while staying in London. He sketched, The Austin Friars Church London and the small Churches at Petersham and Turnham Green and often sketched figures walking down long avenues of trees. He was a subscriber to The Graphic magazine which was a social reforming newspaper and featured  art work portraying working class life. Van Gogh was taken by the artists who worked for The Graphic and called them,

“ the great portrayers.”


Another part of the exhibition shows rural scenes painted by Constable and Turner that Van Gogh mentions seeing in his letters to his brother Theo. You can  see how Van Gogh learned from these artists and began to look at the landscape the way they did, incorporating many of their compositional techniques.


After looking at the artists that influenced Van Gogh in Britain the exhibition focuses more on Van Gogh’s paintings themselves showing many pictures he painted in Paris and also while in the South of France in Arles. The Paris paintings tend to be darker, portraits of associates, a pair of boots and personal subjects. In Arles , the light and vividness of the landscape explodes from his canvases.

The final part of the exhibition details the legacy Van Gogh left after his death in 1890. Twenty years after Van Gogh died, in December 1910, there was an exhibiton in London called, “ Manet and the Post Impressionists.”The term,” Post Impressionists,” was invented for this exhibition. It introduced Van Gogh’s art to Britain. British artists were greatly influenced by this exhibition. Virginia Woolf wrote,
“ on or about December 1910, human character changed.”


Virgina Woolf’s sister, Vanessa Bell was one of the first artists to take direct inspiration form Van Gogh. A portrait she did of Roger Fry, in 1912, the art critic and member of The Bloomsbury Group is one example. The Vineyard also painted by Vanessa Bell, in 1930 is another example.  Other British artists who were influenced by Van Gogh at this time are also featured. Flower Painting, by Mathew Smith in 1913, Yellow Landscape 1892 by Roderic O’Connor and Miss Jekylls Gardening Boots by William Nicholson in 1920 is almost a straight copy of Van Gogh’s boots he painted in Paris in 1886.


Van Gogh looked at paintings and drawings very carefully  and learned from them. He was not taught how to paint and never took an art course. His learning process was very much brought about by looking and thinking and discovering ways of interpreting what he saw and what he believed. I found the exhibition an inspiration getting a sense of how Van Gogh saw the world.



William |Nicholson, Gertrude Jekyll's Boots.

BOOTS by Van Gogh while in Paris.

During his stay in London between 1873 to 1876 Van Gogh tried various occupations, art dealer, preacher and teacher. He failed at them all, but each provided experiences that influenced what was to come. They helped ignite Vincent into being the artist he became. The process was a journey of self-discovery. Using a religious allegory, Van Gogh would know it well,  the apostles huddled together in the upper room, at Pentecost, after the crucifixion of Jesus. They thought they were failures but they became inflamed and inspired by the Holy Spirit. Van Gogh through his apparent failures was lead to an inflaming of his spirit which was revealed in his letters and his paintings. His paintings, I think show, like the self-portrait used in the poster at the entrance to the exhibition, an inner life aflame with passion and a spiritual awareness of the world around him.

 Vincent Van Gogh was twenty years old arrived in London in May 1873.  For two years he worked for Goupil art dealers near Covent garden in Southampton Street and later moved to Bedford Row. The company moved to Bedford Row in May 1875 and Vincent wrote to his brother Theo enthusing about the new gallery.

“Our gallery is now finished and it’s beautiful, we have many beautiful things at the moment: Jules Dupré, Michel, Daubigny, Maris, Israëls, Mauve, Bisschop, &c.” 

The Goupil firm dealt in reproductions, which Van Gogh collected himself, but later in Bedford Row they began to sell original paintings too. He wrote often to his brother Theo and in the letters he enthused about his experiences in London. The 13th June 1873.

“Last Sunday I went to the country with Mr Orbach, my principal, to Boxhill; it is a high hill about six hours by road from London, partially chalky and overgrown with box and on one side a wood of high oak trees. The country is beautiful here, quite different from Holland or Belgium. Everywhere you see charming parks with high trees and shrubs. Everyone is allowed to walk there.”

Van Gogh loved British culture and this emerged in the art he created later. He knew four languages including English and spoke and read well in all of them. He read and reread all of Dickens novels and said,

“My life is aimed at making the things from everyday life that Dickens described.”

In his letters to friends and family he mentions by name over one hundred books written in English, Hard Times and A Christmas Carol by Dickens, Macbeth and King Lear by Shakespeare. He also read  George Elliot, John Keats the poet, Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, The Bible  and many more. He was influenced by artists portrayal of British scenes such as Gustav Dore, James Whistler and John Everett Millais. Van Gogh immersed himself in culture while he lived in England visiting museums and galleries. He walked everywhere and sometimes rowed on the Thames with acquaintances for pleasure and travelled on the underground too.


20th July 1873 to Theo.
“There are some good painters here, though, including Millais, who made ‘The Huguenot’, Ophelia, &c., engravings of which you probably know, they’re very beautiful. Then Boughton, of whom you know the ‘Puritans going to church’  in our Galerie photographique.I’ve seen very beautiful things by him. Moreover, among the old painters, Constable, a landscape painter who lived around 30 years ago, whose work is splendid, something like Diaz and Daubigny. And Reynolds and Gainsborough, who mostly painted very, very beautiful portraits of women, and then Turner, after whom you’ll probably have seen engravings.”

 He lived for a while in a small terraced house in Stockwell near the Oval Cricket Ground. The house has a blue plaque commemorating his stay there. He became friends with the daughter of the landlady and enjoyed the company of three Germans living in the same house.
2nd July 1873 to Theo.

“The neighbourhood where I live is very pretty, and so peaceful and convivial that one almost forgets one is in London.
In front of every house is a small garden with flowers or a couple of trees, and many houses are built very tastefully in a sort of Gothic style.
Still, I have to walk for more than half an hour to reach the countryside.
We have a piano in the drawing room, and there are also three Germans living here who really love music, which is most agreeable.”


 At Groupil, who were expanding their trade in prints and original artists while he was with them, provided the opportunity for Van Gogh to see illustrations of modern subjects that included the use of light and shade. He learned about the British , “black and white,” tradition. Van Gogh himself collected over two thousand prints.These prints  provided compositions that were new. When Van Gogh was dismissed from the firm of Groupal he started preaching and teaching in places as diverse as Isleworth in London near Richmond and in Ramsgate in Kent.

The Richmomd Local Historical Society, which covers the area of Richmond and Isleworth,  have researched the places Van Gogh frequented in Isleworth and some of the people he was associated with during his time in London.

Van Gogh lodged in 87 Hackford Road, north of Brixton in Stockwell near The Oval Cricket ground. He fell in love with the landladies daughter Eugenie. He spent the first two years working for the art dealer, Groupil, first in Southampton Road and later in Bedford Street on the west side of Covent Garden. He was dismissed from Goupils in January 1876. There is no evidence for why he was asked to leave.Before moving to their office in London he had worked for Goupil in Paris. Photographs of him at this time show him slightly disheveled in appearance which does not  fit the image of an art expert and art salesman. Van Gogh went on to try other ways of making his living. He was an earnest, intense young man. He first turned to teaching at a school in Ramsgate, from April 1876, run by a gentleman called Mr Stokes. Stokes later moved his school to Isleworth located on the north bank of the Thames just west of Twickenham and Richmond, a few miles from the centre of London. He lived at Linkfield House number 183 Twickenham Road. There was a problem though, Mr Stokes did not keep his promise to pay Van Gogh after his first months trial. He left and joined another school nearby at Holme Court, 158 Twickenham Road run by a congregational minister, the Reverend Thomas Slade Jones. Jones paid him a salary of £15 a year plus board and lodging. Van Gogh felt a strong religious calling. He was the son and grandson of Dutch Reform pastors. In July 1876 he wrote to Theo,

“being a London missionary is rather special. I believe; one has to go around among the workers and the poor spreading God’s word……….Last week I was in London a couple of times to find out the possibility of my becoming one ( missionary)….I may well be suited to this… To do this however I have to be at least 24 years old and so in my case I still have a year to wait.”

 He continued as a teacher and spent time sketching, sketches were included in his letters to Theo and other friends and family members. Reverend Slade Thomas thought Van Gogh had a calling to be a pastor. He served at the congregational church in Chiswick Road Turnham Green. Early in October 1886 Van Gogh began to help  Slade Jones with his parish work. He visited the sick, became an assistant teacher at the Sunday School and he helped with the mid week adult Bible studies.

There are records of him attending prayer meetings at the Methodist Church in Kew Road Richmond. Fourteen letters, from July to November 1876 to his brother Theo, are lengthy, exuberant and have many scriptural references Their intensity and emotions could, however, reflect a bipolar episode. There is a possibility he preached at the Vineyard Congregational Church Richmond in December 1876. When he returned to Holland for Christmas in 1876 his health was poor. His parents persuaded him not to return to England. A job was found for him in his uncle’s book shop in Dordrecht. He never returned to England again.

The letters of Vincent Van Gogh: http://www.webexhibits.org/vangogh/

TATE BRITAIN 27 March – 11 August 2019 “The EY Exhibition, "Van Gogh,and Britain.”