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

Tuesday 18 June 2019

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


 The entrance to special exhibitions at Tate Britain 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. 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

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.

VAN GOGH. His life in London.

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. His  letters show he would think in this way.  The apostles huddled together in the upper room, at Pentecost, after the crucifixion of Jesus,  failures but  inflamed and inspired by the Holy Spirit. This scene  encapsulates Van Goghs feelings at this time. His paintings  show that 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.”


 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 and 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:

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