Thursday 22 August 2019

SANDITON ( an unfinished novel by Jane Austen) is coming to our screens. What might we see?

Sanditon first look: Jane Austen's last ever novel has ...
Rose Williams plays Charlotte Heywood.

Andrew Davies, the adaptor of Pride and Prejudice for television back in 1995 with Colin Firth doing his Darcy stint, has adapted Jane Austen’s final and unfinished novel, Sanditon, for ITV as an eight part production. Davies has taken the plot themes and characters introduced by Austen in her unfinshed novel and extended and ,”finished,” the story in his own inimitable way. The first episode is being shown on ITV on 25th August at 9pm here in Britain.

Here are some of the themes that Andrew Davies is presented with by the novel.

The unthinking enthusiasm of the Parkers leads  to surprising results..The story starts with an accident. Mr and Mrs Parker are overturned in their carriage along a narrow country lane. They have persuaded their reluctant driver to take them off their route to visit Willingden, a place Mr Parker is convinced he will meet a doctor who has advertised his services. Mr Parker is in search of a physician to be employed at his new sea side resort of Sanditon. Mr Parker,  has mistaken Willingden for Greater Willingden . The  accident leads to their meeting with the Heywood family who are a farming family located in Willingden. The Heywoods take care of the Parkers over ,"a whole fortnight," and nurse Mr Parker with his twisted ankle. The Parkers invite Charlotte Heywood, the 22 years old eldest daughter to accompany them to Sanditon. 

There is a moment, in which Mr Parker discusses with Mr Heywood the great benefits of Sanditon as opposed to a rival resort, Brinshore. If Mr Parkers words are to go by, Brinshore, is a terrible place. His eccentric and damning attack on Brinshore makes you wonder about his judgement. An unattractive trait in a man who appears to be friendly and generous in character. Some dark undercurrent within the story perhaps?

Jane Austen was accutely aware of the world changing around her. Sanditon is a discourse to some extent about, “Civilization,” developing by shifting from the comfortable rural past, where people are born, live and die in one place, (The Heywards born and bred and residing in Willingden for 57 years) to Sanditon with bracing sea air, invigorating bathing, social fluidity,  a place that people  visit  on a seasonal basis. A world where people move and socialise in new ways.The railways were already begun by 1817. Swansea in South Wales had its first steam railway in 1807. The seaside was becoming accessible to everybody. I hope Andrew Davies agrees?


Theo James plays Sydney Parker

One central theme to the story is the rich Lady Denham’s three families, firstly the Breretons, her birth family, who supplied her with a large fortune, secondly the Hollis’s, the family of her first and property owning husband and lastly the somewhat impoverished family of her aristocratic and last husband, Sir Harry Denham from whom she takes her prized name and title. Members of these three families vie for her favours and her inheritance. She is aware of their efforts to ingratiate themselves. Jane Austen describes her as uneducated and mean and sordid, a real monster by the sounds of it. A number of story strands immediately suggest themselves about Lady Denham alone.

We can always come back to , of course,   the enthusiastic dreamer Mr Parker, the instigator of Sanditon, his ineffectual wife, his hyperchondriac family , their over energetic  and mistake imbued efforts at grandiose schemes, and in Mr  Parkers case his naive  overinflated opinion  of Sanditon. 

How do you attract people to a new resort such as Sanditon? Much comedic value can be derived from this. The Parkers appear to employ, word of mouth. Mr Parkers sisters, Susan and Diana and his brother Arthur  by talking incessantly to all and sundry attract some possible visitors but, true to the Parker family traits, Diana Parker, in her enthusiastic rush at things and lack of sober reflection is often mistaken. She doesn’t pay attention properly.She thinks she has, through contacts and personal persuasion enticed two large families to visit Sanditon but the two families turn out to be one and the same family and a much smaller group than expected of four women, a teacher and her three young boarding school pupils from Camberwell.


A walk on Sanditon beach.

The possible marriage scenarios are interesting. Sir Edward Denham, , the inheritor of the baronetcy since Sir Harry Denham died, needs to marry into wealth. Lady Denham does not intend to leave him any of her wealth and has said as much to him. There are no available wealthy spinsters to choose from  at the start. At first he  tries to seduce  the poor Clara Bereton, Lady Denhams young relation who is residing with Lady Denham at Sanditon House. Clara is all too  aware of his character and at first doesn’t want to entice him. A mystery begins when  Charlotte Heywood and \Mrs Parker on a visit to Lady Denham spies Clara and Sir Edward sitting in a field, sitting together at very close quarters. One wonders what could this mean? Who is going to inherit Lady Denhams wealth is so far a mystery to all and many maneuverings are open to speculation. A rich 17 year old, Miss Lambe from the West Indies arrives with the school from Camberwell. How will she impact on the society of Sanditon and Sir Edwards ambitions? Compared to other Austen novels where the characters are settled in one place, often from birth, Sanditon is a new more fluid society that changes almost daily with new arrivals and new departures. A society in flux.

Jane Austen was always  a firm believer in the power of reading and especially novel reading. In Sanditon, however, she has a go at the more pretentious readers of novels. I can imagine the scene. Sir Edward Denham is a ridiculous character. He makes a long winded verbose analysis of his reading habits and condones strong passions, intense feelings and human grandeur as the epitome of great writing. He goes on and on using words he doesn’t necessarily know the meaning of. Charlotte Heywood brings him down to earth after his long and florid descriptions with the simple statement, “If I understand you right- our taste in novels is not at all the same.” At this point they parted. Jane Austen is definitely in cynical mode.

'Sanditon' on PBS: How it portrays Jane Austen's first ...
Crystal Clarke plays the wealthy young West Indian heiress.

 Who might the intelligent and slightly priggish Charlotte Parker team up with? We are left at the end of the piece with the arrival of Sydney, another  brother of Mr Parker. Mr and Mrs Parker have spoken much about Sydney. He makes fun of his hypochondriac sisters and brother and by making fun of their moans a groans and about their ailments they describe in their letters Sydney often provides Mr and Mrs Parker with a guilty amusement. They, in turn, describe Sydney as , idle and saucy. But then Mr Parker's descriptions of the rest of his family has not turned out quite as he describes. His sickly siblings are anything but a lot of the time. They think themselves ill but as soon as they are distracted by some mission or task they appear to have lots of energy, vigour and health, so maybe Sydney will not be as at first suggested. If his arrival has anything to go by he has the possible makings of a Jane Austen male character worthy of  Charlotte Heywoods attentions.Charlotte and Mrs Parker meet him on their way to visit Lady Denham. He  appears out of the mist driving his own  servant ,”in a very neat carriage.” which at first could be anything from a gig to a phaeton, from one horse to four. Those who know their carriages will understand the social meaning of each type. And driving his own servant too?  Another example of society turned on its head perhaps?   It was a very friendly meeting in the road as his carriage stops beside them for a moment and his sister inlaw ,"seemed," to like him. So we shall see. He announces that he is only going to stay for two or three days in Sanditon and informs them that he had come from Eastbourne. Is this a comment on Sanditon in that he would prefer Eastbourne ? And, of course what and who has he left behind in Eastbourne to where he must return?

Some of the other topics Andrew Davies might explore further, sea bathing, libraries, walks along the terrace, Charlotte Heywood's two sisters, near to her age and all her many younger siblings featured at the start of the novel. There is  Mr Parker's  search for a resident physician to be employed in Sanditon. Then there is the pull from the past. Charlotte Heywood's home in Willingden and the Parkers former comfortable farm house located inland in a dip in the ground near the old Sanditon village are places that surely cannot be forgotten . The development of the old Sanditon village itself appears to be going apace as opposed to the struggling new Sanditon on the cliff tops, and so on and so forth.  Andrew Davies, save us from our ignorance.

"Trafalgar House, on the most elevated spot on the down was a light elegant building, standing in a small lawn with a very young plantation round it, about a hundred yards from the brow of steep, but not very lofty cliff..." Sanditon by Jane Austen.

The above picture is Tenby , in Pembrokeshire, South Wales, a place Jane Austen knew and which in the 18th century was a famous seaside resort. Sir William Paxton, a local  politician and merchant banker, invested heavily in the town. In 1802 he started building many fine residences in terraces along the cliff top and within the town itself. It had seawater baths for invalids, bathing machines lined the beaches, an assembly rooms and a small theatre were built in the town.  John Wesley, the great Methodist preacher preached in Tenby during the 1790s and George Elliot came to stay in 1856. A blue plaque on the outside of an elegant Georgian terraced house,overlooking Castle Beach, names, Admiral Lord Nelson, along with Lord and Lady Hamilton as residents during a  trip to Pembrokeshire visiting Lord Hamilton's Pembrokeshire estates. Charles Norris (1779-1859), the English Topographical etcher lived beside Tenby harbour in a small cottage. He is famous for creating etchings of the Pembrokeshire countryside but especially of Tenby itself. George Austen , Jane's father, had a copy of Norris's etchings among his own collection of books at Steventon Rectory. Jane would most certainly have looked at them. Mr Parker would only have been too delighted to attract those people to Sanditon. Sir William Paxton was a man instep with Mr Tom Parker, without a doubt.

Tuesday 13 August 2019


Jane Austen’s England by Karin Quint was first published in ,Dutch, in 2014. It was published in, English,  in 2017 as a limited edition for Karin's backers who crowdfunded the project to translate her book into English. Now,  in 2019, the paperback version in English has 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.

On the first page, after the publishing details, we are presented with a full page picture of the sign fastened to the outer wall of Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton. A fitting metaphor for what is to follow in this book. An apt 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  as a museum, through its old houses, its countryside . its villages and its roads as well as its inhabitants. The reverse side of this page is a full page picture looking along the Cob seawall at Lyme Regis in Dorset with Charmouth cliffs  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 is a mixture of beauty, softness and strength. A few Austen characters and relationships come to mind. The pictures, bright and colourful, are well considered.

The contents page has 14 sections, each colour coded. The pages are edged with the colour highlighting each section. 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 section you want to focus on. This is a great way to organize the book. It is clear and simple to negotiate.

I like Karin’s short introduction. She relates how she became interested in Jane Austen at first in her early twenties, finding a copy of Pride and Prejudice and falling in love with Austen. 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 ,” Jane Austen’s Life,” an overview of Jane’s life. It informs the person who knows nothing or very little. It  is an enjoyable  read for those who know Austen’s life well too.  Karin gives us her opinions and writes in a style where you can imagine her talking to you. At times I was answering Karin, agreeing as well as disagreeing. 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.

There is a section about ,”England in Austen’s Time,” which gives us the background history to what was happening in Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries and it's role in the world while, of course her characters were  flirting, conversing and relating to each other. Some of it Austen alludes to within her writing. The plantations in the West Indies mentioned in Mansfield Park for instance.  In. Persuasion, Royal Naval Captains Harville, Benwick and Wentworth are ashore and on leave free to pursue relationships, released from serving at sea 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,” If 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?  

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. 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. Perhaps 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 from the rest of us anyway.

Karin uses quotes from Jane's letters describing her experiences in a place. She quotes from Jane's 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 Morland's Bath.  Beechan Cliff, featured in Northanger Abbey, is a place  that when you yourself stand at the top of the high hill 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 situation at the Watson's ball is a microcosm of the whole of Surrey society.  This is what Bath was too, on a much larger scale of course, a temporary place for all strata’s of society to intermingle. Often this mixing of society brought about a loosening of morals. Maybe this is why Austen both hated Bath and at the same time it provided her a place that offered  many dramatic encounters.  The Watsons is an important piece of writing in understanding Jane Austen's viewpoint about society. 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  discussion about the people and places Jane knew and visited or where she 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 subject. In the section, “The South Coast,” as an example, a pink shaded page, pink being the colour code for this section,Karin writes about  Mapperton manor house, in Dorset, which was used in the 1996 film adaptation  of  Emma. In the,” 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,”  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 Winchester 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. 

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 each. The mileage covered is worked out and the time spent on each day   at a given place or on a given walk is suggested. 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 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 Jane's 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, “ adaptations, “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. Nothing 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. 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 main 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. It is at this point I make myself promises to delve further into reading about Jane Austen.

The final pages of the book include tourist information such as hotels and bed and breakfast in each location covered in the book. There is also a list of research resources. Yes, I really must read more. Some short biographical notes about Janes immediate family which also has biographical information about , what Karin terms, her secondary family,  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 clearly laid out index.

This is a lovely book and I will refer to it often I am sure. As with any Janeite, 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. 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, full of fun, depressing, desperate and antique in nature. What makes Jane & Me unique though  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 and hopefully equal society. This is important because the gentry and aristocratic parts of our society have been with us  for so long and 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 today's world.

 Most politicians pronounce bold statements about creating an equal society and often try and fail in their attempts. We 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 our 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  and lineage. This consisted of family anecdotes. 

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.  

One of the most poignant aspects of Carolines autobiography is the description of her relationship with her grandfather. She hardly  knew him although they lived in the same house in close proximity during Caroline's formative years. They had very few conversations. In Caroline's 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,  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  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  Jane Austen fan 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 felt she wanted to reveal her ancestral identity to her best friend and work colleague Amanda Mortensen. She attended 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, her best friend, 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 the 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  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  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.