Wednesday, 16 January 2019

JANE AUSTEN: A FAMILY PHOTOGRAPH ALBUM


Reverend Charles Bridges Knight, Marianne Knight, (nephew and niece of Jane Austen) and George Hill, their nephew.
Helena Horton, writing in the Daily Telegraph on the 11th January 2019, announced that, “ Lost photographs of Jane Austen’s nieces and nephews have been discovered in an old photo album.”A lady called Karen Ievers bought the album on E-Bay, paying $1000. She thought she was buying an album of 19th century aristocrats, interesting and valuable in their own right but she had no idea how special this particular album would turn out to be. Karen recognized the names penciled at the bottom of some of the photographs. She sent them to a leading historian, Dr Sophia Hill, at Queens University Belfast. It turned out that the photographs are of some of Jane Austen’s nephews and nieces and members of their families. The album was put together by Lord George Augusta Hill who married two of Jane Austen’s nieces, Cassandra Jane Knight and Louisa Knight , two  daughters of Jane’s brother Edward Knight. Dr Hill suggests that the novels of Jane Austen,” foreshadowed the chequered love lives of these family members.”

Jane’s brother Edward  married Elizabeth Bridges (1773–1808) on 27 December 1791, and they had eleven children . Fanny was the eldest but there followed, Edward ( junior), (1794–1879), George Thomas(1795–1867), Henry (1796–1843),  William (1798–1873), Elizabeth (1800–1884), Marianne (1801–1896), Charles (1803–1867), Louisa (1804–1889), Cassandra Jane (1806–1842) and Brook John (1808–1878).    

Photography got going in Britain in the late 1830s with Fox Talbot at Lacock Abbey. He invented a process using  salted paper. This was the calotype process. Louis Daguerre, in France, had also invented the daguerreotype process by this time. The French government, in 1839, gave the world free rights to  the process. They also published detailed instructions about how to create a daguerreotype .
   
Are the pictures Fox Talbot calotype pictures or daguerrotypes? Looking at the photographs printed in The Telegraph it is impossible to tell which process was used. Both techniques were available  and both inventions had been developed to the stage where they took a few minutes to produce an image. Both processes came into public use about the end of the 1830s. 

One picture shows an image of Lady Knatchbull, nee Fanny Knight, who was Jane Austen's favourite niece.



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Lady Knatchbull (Fanny Knight)

Fannys face in the picture, her demeanour, her dress style; can we get a glimpse of the person? The young, vibrant, hungry for life young girl Jane Austen, her aunt, knew, in this picture of her in old age? Jane Austen wrote a number of long personal letters to her niece and Fanny wrote to her aunt revealing her inmost thoughts, hopes, desires and passions.

In a letter written between Friday 18th and Sunday 20th November 1814 Jane wrote to Fanny a long letter  giving her advice about her infatuation with a young man. Fanny has described the young man to her aunt in a previous letter because Jane knows a lot about him already.  He was sober and shy and he appeared to have ,”evangelical” religious leanings. In this letter Jane looks at all the positive things about the young man highlighting the good things about his character. She discusses the various Evangelical beliefs and ways of worship, the good and the bad, speculating what his attitudes might be.But then Jane gets realistic,

 “ I shall turn round and entreat you not to commit yourself farther and not to think of accepting him. Anything is to be preferred or endured rather marrying without affection.”

In a following letter, ten days later, on the 30th, Jane has not been able to let the subject go. She is worried about her niece making the wrong decision.

“ When I consider how few young men you have seen.” 


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A watercolour painted by Cassandra Austen of her niece Fanny.

Jane is serious, advising Fanny to stand back and take a long cool look at the situation. Fanny appears to have taken her aunts advice. She did not marry  for another six years. She became Lady Knatchbull when she married Sir Edward Knatchbull in 1820. There are other details in Jane's letters to Fanny about family and friends and what various people, they both know, are doing. The letters often start,

“ My dearest Fanny,” and invariably show a lot of affection.”

Cassandra wrote to Fanny after Jane's death. Sunday 20 th July 1817.
  
“My Dearest Fanny- doubly dear to me now for her dear sake whom we have lost. She did love you most sincerely and never shall I forget the proofs of love you gave her during her illness in writing those kind, amusing letters at a time when I know your feelings would have dictated so different a style.”
Nine days later on Tuesday 29th July, after Fanny had replied to Cassandras first letter, Cassandra writes,

“ My dearest Fanny, I have read your letter for the third time and thank you most sincerely for every kind expression to myself and still more warmly for your praises of her who I believe was better known to you than to any human being besides myself.”

Fanny Knight, Lady Knatchbull, was very dear and close to her aunts and Jane in particular.
I hope with Aunt Jane's advice ringing in her ears Fanny made a match as good as Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a relationship that grew and developed a deep love and understanding. 

A portrait of Sir Edward Knatchbull, Fannys husband.

A portrait of Fanny's husband, Sir Edward Knatchbull,  shows a gentle looking man with kindness in his face. Lets hope Fanny married him for love. She was his second wife, and step mother to five of the six children from his first marriage to Annabella Honywood. One child died as a baby. She also became the mother of five children she herself bore him. Where is Aunt Jane when you need a baby sitter?






Georgina Prettyman the niece of Lady Knatchbull (Fanny Knight)


Another photograph depicts Georgina Prettyman, daughter of Edward Knight (junior), Fanny's brother and Mary Dorothea Knatchbull, Fanny's step daughter. The elopement and marriage of Georgina's parents was a scandalous affair. It was not technically incestuous. 

You wonder if the photograph was taken inside or outside? The shadow on the left of her face as we look at the picture, is not strong. We can see her features, including her eye, very clearly. It looks like natural light was used. The backdrop gives nothing away. It is a light and neutral wall probably to make the portrait of Georgina stand out  of the picture. There is nothing decorative apart from the Grecian urn and a triangle of drapery to the left. The picture would look extremely stark and austere if the Grecian urn and the  piece of floral drapery were not there.  The picture is a portrait of Georgina dressed in a large voluminous dress. It is impossible to say the colour because the picture is black and white, We can only see it is a dark colour. with even darker, perhaps black,  lace trimmings. A perfectly starched bonnet with broad long white tabs surround her head and face. Her hair is silky smooth with not a hair out of place. Her face is serene. She looks calm and placid. Every part of this picture has been staged and on the part of Georgina,acted. 



The picture is a portrait in the style of the 18th century portrait painters and this is the purpose of the picture , an elegant staged, portrait, taking its precedence from art portraits. The science used to create the picture is something new though. A science which was already branching out into other purposes for recording images. Daguerre and Fox Talbot took architectural pictures, street scenes, rural landscapes and pictures of everyday life.  Documentary photography was in its infancy and it was just a short step to news photography.


Edward Knight ( the cause of scandal), Marianne Knight ( nephew and niece of Jane Austen) and a young George Hill., son of Lord George Hill and Louisa (Knight), Marianne's and Edward's nephew. )

Pictures in the album, show Jane's niece and nephew Marianne and Edward.  When their mother died in 1808,  Edward (junior), and George, another of Fanny's brothers, were staying in Southampton with Jane and their grandmother. Jane was with them when they received and read a letter from their father informing them of their mother’s death.

Monday 24th Tuesday 25th October 1808 written to Cassandra from Castle Square Southampton.
“His letter was read over by each of them yesterday, and with many tears, George sobbed aloud, Edwards tears do not flow so easily; but as far as I can judge they are both very properly impressed by what has happened. “

Later in the letter Jane recounts an adventure they had rowing on the Itchen River and other activities. She kept the two boys occupied.

“ We had a little water party yesterday; I and my two nephews went from the Itchen Ferry  up to Northam where we landed, looked in to a 74 and walked home and it was so much enjoyed that I had intended to take them to Netley today, the tide was just right for our going immediately after noon shine but I am afraid there will be rain; if we cannot go so far, however, we may perhaps go round from the ferry to the quay. I had had not proposed doing more than cross the Itchen yesterday, but it proved so pleasant, and so much to the satisfaction of all, that when we reached the middle of the stream we agreed to be rowed up the river; both boys rowed a great part of the way, and their questions and their remarks, as well as their enjoyment, were very amusing; George’s enquiries were endless, and his eagerness in everything reminds me often of his uncle Henry. Our evening was equally agreeable in its way; I introduced, “speculation,” and it was so much approved that we hardly knew how to leave off.”
Writing from Henrietta Street in Covent Garden on Thursday 16th September 1813 Jane relates to Cassandra the goings on in London with her nephews and nieces. She took the girls,  Fanny and Marianne, to a dentist in London, a Mr Spence.

“ The poor Girls and their teeth!- I have not mentioned them yet, but we were a whole hour at Spence’s and Lizzy’s were filed and  lamented over again and poor Marianne had two taken out after all, the two just behind the eye teeth, to make room for those in front.- When her doom was fixed, Fanny Lizzy and I walked ionto the next room, where we heard each of the two sharp hasty screams. – Fannys teeth were cleaned too- and pretty as they are Spence found something to do with them, putting in gold and talking gravely- and making a considerable point of seeing her again before winter. “

Another scandalous affair occurred. When Cassandra Jane Knight died Lord George Hill married her sister, his sister in law, Louise.  You were not supposed to marry your sister in law. The couple were ostracized because of this.One picture features Lord George Hill with an austere looking Reverend Charles- Bridges Knight, the vicar of St Nicholas Church,Steventon at the time, Marianne and George Hill.


Lord George Hill with Reverend Charles- Bridges Knight, Marianne Knight and George Hill, the son of Lord George, . ( This looks like St Nicholas, Steventon Parish Church.)

Jane described some of her nephews and nieces on a visit to her brother Edwards estate at Godmersham, eight miles from Canterbury in Kent. Elizabeth, her brother’s wife along with some of the children greeted her on arrival at the house.

Wednesday 15th to Friday 17th June 1808
“.Elizabeth, who was dressing when we arrived, came to me for a minute attended by Marianne, Charles, and  Louisa, and, you will not doubt gave me a very affection ate welcome. That I had received from Edward also I need not mention, but I do, you see, because it is a pleasure. I never saw him look in better health, and Fanny says he is perfectly well. I cannot praise Elizabeth’s looks but they are probably affected by a cold. Her little namesake has gained in beauty in the last three years, though not all that Marianne has lost. Charles is not quite so lovely as he was. Louisa is as much as I expected, and Cassandra I find handsomer than I expected though at present disguised by such a breaking out that she does not come down after dinner. She has charming eyes and a nice open countenance, and seems likely to be very lovable. Her size is magnificent.”

The importance of this photograph album is immense. It puts real faces to some of the people Jane Austen knew and loved.

Ref: 
Jane Austen's Letters ( New Edition) Collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye Third Edition Oxford University Press.

6 comments:

  1. Tony, what a grand discovery! Thank you for sharing this with us; otherwise, I probably would never have heard about it. What an enormous dress Marianne Knight is wearing in that first photo--too extreme to have ever been considered attractive, one would think.

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  2. Thanks for your comment Jean. Yes, we don't always think of the practicalities of wearing the clothes that Jane Austens family , friends and characters had to contend with. Riding in carriages, walking, running down hills, riding horses , walking along the top of a high stone harbour wall, moving around inside a shop. I bet there was a lot of static electricity created with all those fine clothes brushing against each other. The atmosphere must have been electric. Ha! Ha!

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  3. Hello Tony, I am the owner of the album. I have read your blog post and thank you for your interest in the album. Some of the newspapers made an error in the captions of the photographs in my album. The photograph which some are calling a "young Fanny Knight" is actually Georgina Prettyman (Fanny's niece), daughter of Edward Knight and Fanny's stepdaughter, Mary Dorothea Knatchbull with whom he eloped. The other photograph of the mother and daughter is actually Norah Ward nee Hill, daughter of Jane Austen's niece Cassandra Jane Knight and Lord George Hill. Kind regards, Karen Ievers (not Levers as some papers stated!)

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    1. Hi Karen. Thank you so much for commenting on my post. You are very fortunate in discovering this important set of photographs.I was using the information I got from the Telegraph to inform my post. I was aware that the writer was a little vague about some of their facts.However, it was the only thing I had to go on.Thank you so much for your information. When I get the chance I will edit the post. I will pass on your comments to a few ,"Janeites." All the very best, Tony

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  4. Wow, this is fascinating reading. I am glad I found this and got to read it. Great job on this content. I liked it a lot. Thanks for the great and unique info. see at KISS English

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    1. Thank you for your kind comment. Tony

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