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Archive for the ‘Cassandra Austen’ Category

My latest book, Searching for Captain Wentworth is published on September 7th – though it is possible to order it now through Amazon and the usual channels. I wanted to write something a little different from my usual Jane Austen sequel and have always wanted to try my hand at a contemporary romance. I decided to combine the two in a time travel book, another favourite genre, and I enjoyed writing it enormously!
 At the beginning of the book, my heroine Sophie has a broken heart and is feeling very fed up with the world. At the invitation of an aunt, she takes herself off to Bath for a holiday and finds herself living next door to the house Jane Austen lived in 200 years ago. It’s not long before strange things start happening and when Sophie finds an ancient glove dropped by her mysterious neighbour, Josh, she is whisked back into the past where she meets Jane Austen and her brother Charles, a handsome lieutenant on the frigate, Endymion. Sophie is soon enjoying the delights of balls and parties with her friends, living the life of her ancestor and namesake, Sophia Elliot. Whilst her friendships with the Austens could not be better or more exciting, Sophie has to contend with her family who are a nightmare! Her father is a snob and her sisters are far from the affectionate siblings she always dreamed of having.

Bath Street, Bath

 In the present, Sophie’s friendship with Josh gets off to a shaky start. She cannot help being attracted to a man who loves Jane Austen’s Persuasion as much as she does – though she’s determined not to fall for any man again. Besides, it seems Josh is already taken … Torn between her life in the modern world and that of the past, Sophie’s story travels two hundred years and back again as she tries to find her own Captain Wentworth. And as she comes to believe that may depend upon risking everything but also changing the course of history, she learns that she isn’t the only one caught in a heartbreaking dilemma. Her friend, Jane Austen has her own quest for happiness, her own secrets and heartache. I’ve blended fact and fiction together, drawing on Jane Austen’s life, novels and letters in an attempt to create a believable world of new possibilities behind the inspiration for Jane Austen’s beloved novel, Persuasion.

Sydney Gardens is opposite Jane Austen’s house in Bath. It features in several pivotal scenes in my book. The gardens have changed since Jane Austen’s day – known as pleasure gardens then, they featured such delights as bowling greens, a Labyrinth or maze, “small, delightful groves”, waterfalls, pavilions and Merlin’s Swing, which stood at the heart of the Labyrinth – a revolving swing wheel from where the ‘lost’ could be watched in the maze below. There were alcoves to enjoy tea, castle ruins, a millhouse and wheel, a hermit’s cot and a Grotto with an underground passage leading to the centre of the Labyrinth. The New Bath Guide in 1801 describes some of the walks – “serpentine walks, which at every turn meet with sweet shady bowers furnished with handsome seats, some canopied by Nature, others by Art.” A Ride provided “a healthy and fashionable airing for Gentlemen and Ladies on horseback free from the inconvenience of dirt in winter and dust in summer and not in commoded by carriages of any kind.”

Sydney Gardens

The wonderful description of a pleasure garden below was written by Tobias Smollett in his book, The Adventures of Humphry Clinker.

Imagine to yourself, my dear Letty, a spacious garden laid out in delightful walks, bounded with high hedges and trees, and paved with gravel; part exhibiting a wonderful assemblage of the most picturesque and striking objects, pavilions, lodges, goves, grottoes, lawns, temples and cascades; porticoes, colonnades, and rotundoes; adorned with pillars, statues, and paintings; the whole illuminated with an infinite number of lamps, disposed in different figures of sun, stars, and constellations: the place crowded with the gayest company, ranging through blissful shades, or supping in different lodges on cold collations, enlivened with mirth, freedom and good humour, and animated with an excellent band of music.

 Pleasure gardens developed naturally from the custom of promenading, and in Bath the concept was taken a step further with Sydney Gardens when the traditional promenading area was combined with a scheme of houses so that the owners could look upon green spaces as if they owned the land. Thomas Baldwin, the architect to the Pulteney family who owned the estate drew up the first plans, but only one of his terrace’s was completed before financial problems hit in 1793. Great Pulteney Street was completed, as were the houses in Sydney Place where Jane Austen came to live in 1801. Bath stopped at this point, the countryside stretched beyond, and a ten minute walk took you into town, much as it does today. You can see why the Austens would have chosen this end of the city. They were country people at heart, and Jane wrote of walking in the gardens and visiting the Labyrinth, every day.
Constance Hill wrote about the interior of number 4, Sydney Place a hundred years after Jane had left.
We sat in the pretty drawing-room with its three tall windows overlooking the Gardens. The morning sun was streaming in at these windows and falling upon the quaint empire furniture which pleasantly suggests the Austen’s sojourn there. The house is roomy and commodious. Beneath the drawing-room, which is on the first floor, are the dining-room and arched hall from which a passage leads to a garden at the back of the house. The large old-fashioned kitchen, with its shining copper pans and its dresser laden with fine old china, looked as if it had remained untouched since the Austens’ day.


A silver token was issued to each shareholder as a free pass into the pleasure garden – the coin featured what we know as the Holburne Museum today. Back then the museum was a hotel and tavern at various different stages, and sitting (as it still does) at the end of Great Pulteney Street made a fabulous focal point at the end of this classically inspired vista. The museum has recently undergone extensive re-modelling, and the new exhibitions inside are wonderful. There is a lovely cafe at the back where you can enjoy some refreshment, inside and out, and you can get a sense of what it must have been like to attend ‘public breakfasts’ in Jane Austen’s day.

Sydney Gardens opened in May 1795 with the Tavern building known as Sydney House nearest to the city, containing dining rooms and meeting rooms. There were two wings on both sides of dining cubicles, a movable orchestra, and a space for fireworks. There was a main, wide walk, and narrower pathways leading off into shrubberies and winding walks. 
The gala Jane Austen attended on 4th June 1799 was spoilt by rain, so she went to the repeat performance two weeks later. She enjoyed the fireworks and illuminations, but not the music which she avoided by not arriving until nine o’clock!

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The ‘Conversation Piece’.
Is this a portrait of the Austen Family?
Is this a portrait of the Austen Family in 1781?
Whilst conducting research into the ‘Rice’ portrait, Mr. Robin Roberts discovered a very interesting picture, which seems to have gone unnoticed in a Christie’s catalogue. The sale of the property of Mrs. Robert Tritton took place at Godmersham Park, Kent, between Monday, June 6th and Thursday, June 9th, 1983. Elsie Tritton and her husband had bought the estate in 1936, and the catalogue notes how she and her husband had lovingly rescued the house, and how Elsie, a New Yorker by birth, wished that after her death, their wonderful collection of furniture and clocks, English Conversation Pieces, objets d’art and textiles should be available for others to buy for their own collections. This is a fascinating catalogue to see, and I think the fact that the painting came out of the sale of Godmersham Park is most exciting! Click on the pictures to see a larger image.
The painting is described in the catalogue as belonging to the English School, circa 1780, pen, and black ink and watercolour, measuring 15½ by 19½ inches. It depicts a family sitting round a table, the adults at opposite ends, with four children beyond.
I think what’s so interesting about the picture is that the more you study it; the more the details become fascinating. It appears to be a wonderful allegorical puzzle, full of the humour and charade that the Austen family loved, reflecting so much of what we know about their family history, and finances, with all the literary symbolism they would have enjoyed so much. There are some significant allusions connected with the Austen family, and I am thrilled to share Mr. Roberts’ thoughts and discoveries with you.
Silhouette to commemorate Edward Austen’s adoption 
He wonders if it could possibly be a work by Ozias Humphry painted to commemorate the adoption of Edward Austen by the Knight family who were childless relatives, and executed at a similar date as the commemorative silhouette.
 What could be the monogram symbols of Ozias Humphry appear to be scattered in several places about the painting, on the figures, in a curlicue above the mantelpiece, and there is a possible signature in the right hand corner, though it is difficult to be certain without seeing the original, and unfortunately, it is impossible to show all the small details on a blog.

If we assume that this is a painting of the Austen family, the central figure shows a young boy who is most likely to be Edward Austen. The family all have their attention turned towards him, and more importantly, their eyes are concentrated on the bunch of grapes, which he holds high up in the air, as if being presented to the viewer. You can almost hear him say, “Look at me, am I not the most fortunate boy in the world? Look what I have!”
Surely the grapes represent the good fortune and wealth that Edward is about to inherit, and the whole family who look as pleased as punch are celebrating with him.
George Herbert makes the connections between grapes, fruit, and inheritance in his poem, The Temple.
From The Temple by George Herbert, 1633
An extract from The Bunch of Grapes:
Then have we too our guardian fires and clouds;
                            Our Scripture-dew drops fast:
We have our sands and serpents, tents and shrowds;
        Alas! our murmurings come not last.
        But where’s the cluster?  where’s the taste
Of mine inheritance?  Lord, if I must borrow,
Let me as well take up their joy, as sorrow.
But can he want the grape, who hath the wine?
                            I have their fruit and more.
Blessed be God, who prosper’d Noahs vine,
        And made it bring forth grapes good store.
        But much more him I must adore,
Who of the Laws sowre juice sweet wine did make
Ev’n God himself being pressed for my sake.
The horseshoe nail at Edward’s feet
As we observe the painting, the small girl with round cheeks to the left of Edward must be Jane Austen herself! This is also one of the most significant parts to the puzzle. She appears to be clutching what could be a horseshoe nail in her hand, which she points towards Edward, her arm held high in the same way as he holds his grapes aloft. This is where it gets most exciting, and where another connection to Edward Austen is made. On the painting of Edward Austen at Chawton House, there is most distinctly, a horseshoe nail on the ground pointing towards Edward’s feet. Mr. Roberts tells me that this little nail is a symbol, an allusion to the fact that the Knights adopted him. Most interestingly, Jane makes reference to the horseshoe nail in a letter dated Tuesday, 9th February, 1813. She is talking about Miss Clewes, a new governess that Edward has engaged to look after his children.
Miss Clewes seems the very Governess they have been looking for these ten years; – longer coming than J. Bond’s last Shock of Corn. – If she will but only keep Good and Amiable and Perfect!  Clewes & (sic) is better than Clowes. And is it not a name for Edward to pun on? – is not a Clew a nail?
Jane was punning on the word clew (or clue) and the Old French word, clou (de girofle), which in its turn was derived from the Latin, clavus, meaning nail (of the clove tree). The dried flower bud of the clove tree resembles a small nail or tack. Of course, it was a name for Edward to pun on because of his own associations with a small horseshoe nail. 
Painting from the Christie’s catalogue of the Godmersham Sale
Now we turn to the gentleman on the left of the painting who is dressed exactly as Mr. Austen in the silhouette attributed to Wellings of Edward’s presentation to the Knight family. He is seated, hands clasped together as though offering up a grateful prayer for their good fortune. Within his grasp it appears he is holding a prayer book, or missal, the silk ribbon of which is draped over his fingers, an indication perhaps of his status as rector, and a man of the cloth. Interestingly, he is the only figure whose eyes are not concentrated on the bunch of grapes, but perhaps this is to indicate he is more concerned with offering grateful thanks in his role of clergyman.
In between Mr. Austen and Jane is Cassandra who rests her hand protectively on her sister’s shoulder, whilst also providing an excellent compositional device leading the eye along through to Jane’s arm to the tip of the Golden Triangle where the bunch of grapes are suspended. The painting follows the traditional composition based on a triangle for optimum placing of the main interest of the work. I also think it interesting to note that the girls’ dresses are of the simple muslin type usually worn by children at this time. Mostly white, they were worn with a ribbon sash, at waist height or higher as in Jane’s case.
On the other side of Edward, it is thought this child most likely to be Francis. James would have been at school at this time, and Henry could also have been away. Charles was too young to be depicted, and would still have been lodged with the family who looked after the infant Austens, as was the custom.
To the far right, as we look at the painting is the formidable figure of Mrs. Austen dressed for the occasion with a string of pearls and a ribbon choker around her neck, complete with more than one ‘feather in her cap’, which must represent her pride and pleasure at the whole event, and by extension, the symbols of nobility and glory. She is further emphasizing Edward’s importance by pointing in his direction, and I think it would be hard to imagine a more pleased mama, in her elegant air, and her smile.
On the table is a further connection with Mrs. Austen. The pineapple, a prized fruit, representing health and prosperity, was first introduced to England in 1772, and the Duke of Chandos, Mrs. Austen’s great uncle, was the first to grow them. The symbolism of the pineapple represents many things, not least the rank of the hostess, but was also associated with hospitality, good cheer, and family affection.
Other dishes of food illustrate further abundance, wealth, and the spiritual associations of Christian values. There is bread and wine on the table: Christian symbols, which represent not only life, and the Communion, but also show there is cause for thankfulness and celebration. The glasses are not yet filled, but there are glasses placed before the adults for a toast. Nearest to us in the foreground, there is another fruitful dish, perhaps plum pudding, representing not only the wealth to come, but also a plentiful future. Placed before Edward, another dish, which also appears to suggest the image of a spaniel dog, may be an allusion to Edward’s love of hunting.
The background to the painting holds its own clues. It’s been suggested that the painting above the mantelpiece could be Zeus abducting Ganymede to the Gods, another reference to the luck of young Edward who has been adopted by the Knight family, and on the opposite wall, could this be a reference to the miniature portrait of George Austen, the handsome proctor, even if this appears to be a larger portrait? In the carpet, the patterns suggest the date may again be replicated, and also an M to symbolize the fact that the couple in the painting are married. Above the looking glass is a crest with what appears to be the date. It would be lovely to have a look at the original to see everything in more detail!
Unfortunately, there appears to be no record of the sale of the painting, and I know that Mr. Roberts, and his sister, Mrs. Henry Rice, would be interested to learn more about the painting. They’ve asked me to make an appeal on their behalf for any information, and if anyone knows of the painting’s whereabouts or can tell us anything about it, please do get in touch with me or with Jane Austen’s House Museum.
My contact details are at the top left of the page.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog as much as I’ve enjoyed hearing all about this little painting from Mr. Roberts and Mrs. Rice, and I’d like to thank them for sharing their discovery. 
I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Sometimes life hands out a little happiness and surprise from most unexpected and unsuspected sources. Yesterday I went to a particularly pretty part of Berkshire with my husband to meet a client of his for lunch. I hadn’t really asked where we were going, I was very happy to be going out into the countryside with the thought of spending a lovely afternoon out in the sunshine. We were a little early, and as the surrounding scenery was so gorgeous we decided to have a little tour down the lanes and chose a route at random to explore. There were so many pretty Georgian houses in the area and such quaint cottages, I began to think I’d stepped back in time and wondered if I should meet with one of Jane’s characters or even Jane herself. Just as I was admiring everything around we came across a signpost marked with four directions. One of the posts pointed to the direction of Kintbury, which immediately struck a chord with me. Could this possibly be the same Kintbury where the Fowle family had lived and where Jane and Cassandra had spent much time in their youth? If you remember, Cassandra was engaged to Thomas Fowle after he graduated from Oxford University. Jane and Cassandra’s father, George Austen, took in Tom and his brother Fulwar to prepare them for university so Cassandra and Tom would most likely have met for the first time at Steventon Rectory. Jane’s brother James was a particular friend to all four Fowle brothers whose home was the vicarage in Kintbury. Eventually, Cassandra and Tom fell in love and were to be married, but they were forced to wait because of a lack of money. He sailed as a military chaplain with a relative, Lord Craven, to the West Indies, in an attempt to increase his fortunes, but very sadly died of yellow fever in San Domingo in 1796. Cassandra, it seemed, never recovered completely as she didn’t consider marriage again. Jane’s references to ‘long engagements’ in Persuasion were surely inspired by Cassandra and Tom’s predicament.
It was with a mixture of emotions that I had a quick look round the village as I thought of both happy and sad times that Jane and Cassandra must have spent there. I am so glad to have been to take a look. Coming across Kintbury like that out of the blue was a wonderful serendipitous moment!

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(16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817)
Thinking of Jane Austen especially today on the anniversary of her death. She could not have imagined how much her books would be treasured and loved by so many people over the next two hundred years!

Here is the letter Jane’s sister Cassandra wrote to her niece Fanny on the event of Jane’s death. It is one of the most beautiful and moving letters I’ve ever read and illustrates just how close the sisters were and what they meant to one another.

I am taking a short break from today – be back soon with more posts!

Winchester: Sunday.

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. Take the only reward I can give you in the assurance that your benevolent purpose was answered; you did contribute to her enjoyment.

Even your last letter afforded pleasure. I merely cut the seal and gave it to her; she opened it and read it herself, afterwards she gave it to me to read, and then talked to me a little and not uncheerfully of its contents, but there was then a languor about her which prevented her taking the same interest in anything she had been used to do.

Since Tuesday evening, when her complaint returned, there was a visible change, she slept more and much more comfortably; indeed, during the last eight-and-forty hours she was more asleep than awake. Her looks altered and she fell away, but I perceived no material diminution of strength, and, though I was then hopeless of a recovery, I had no suspicion how rapidly my loss was approaching.

I have lost a treasure, such a sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed. She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow; I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself. I loved her only too well – not better than she deserved, but I am conscious that my affection for her made me sometimes unjust to and negligent of others; and I can acknowledge, more than as a general principle, the justice of the Hand which has struck this blow.

You know me too well to be at all afraid that I should suffer materially from my feelings; I am perfectly conscious of the extent of my irreparable loss, but I am not at all overpowered and very little indisposed, nothing but what a short time, with rest and change of air, will remove. I thank God that I was enabled to attend her to the last, and amongst my many causes of self-reproach I have not to add any wilful neglect of her comfort.

She felt herself to be dying about half-an-hour before she became tranquil and apparently unconscious. During that half-hour was her struggle, poor soul! She said she could not tell us what she suffered, though she complained of little fixed pain. When I asked her if there was anything she wanted, her answer was she wanted nothing but death, and some of her words were: “God grant me patience, pray for me, oh, pray for me!” Her voice was affected, but as long as she spoke she was intelligible.

I hope I do not break your heart, my dearest Fanny, by these particulars; I mean to afford you gratification whilst I am relieving my own feelings. I could not write so to anybody else; indeed you are the only person I have written to at all, excepting your grandmamma – it was to her, not your Uncle Charles, I wrote on Friday.

Immediately after dinner on Thursday I went into the town to do an errand which your dear aunt was anxious about. I returned about a quarter before six and found her recovering from faintness and oppression; she got so well as to be able to give me a minute account of her seizure, and when the clock struck six she was talking quietly to me.

I cannot say how soon afterwards she was seized again with the same faintness, which was followed by the sufferings she could not describe; but Mr. Lyford had been sent for, had applied something to give her ease, and she was in a state of quiet insensibility by seven o’clock at the latest. From that time till half-past four, when she ceased to breathe, she scarcely moved a limb, so that we have every reason to think, with gratitude to the Almighty, that her sufferings were over. A slight motion of the head with every breath remained till almost the last. I sat close to her with a pillow in my lap to assist in supporting her head, which was almost off the bed, for six hours; fatigue made me then resign my place to Mrs. J. A. for two hours and a-half, when I took it again, and in about an hour more she breathed her last.

I was able to close her eyes myself, and it was a great gratification to me to render her those last services. There was nothing convulsed which gave the idea of pain in her look; on the contrary, but for the continual motion of the head she gave one the idea of a beautiful statue, and even now, in her coffin, there is such a sweet, serene air over her countenance as is quite pleasant to contemplate.

This day, my dearest Fanny, you have had the melancholy intelligence, and I know you suffer severely, but I likewise know that you will apply to the fountain-head for consolation, and that our merciful God is never deaf to such prayers as you will offer.

The last sad ceremony is to take place on Thursday morning; her dear remains are to be deposited in the cathedral. It is a satisfaction to me to think that they are to lie in a building she admired so much; her precious soul, I presume to hope, reposes in a far superior mansion. May mine one day be re-united to it!

Your dear papa, your Uncle Henry, and Frank and Edwd. Austen, instead of his father, will attend. I hope they will none of them suffer lastingly from their pious exertions. The ceremony must be over before ten o’clock, as the cathedral service begins at that hour, so that we shall be at home early in the day, for there will be nothing to keep us here afterwards.

Your Uncle James came to us yesterday, and is gone home to-day. Uncle H. goes to Chawton to-morrow morning; he has given every necessary direction here, and I think his company there will do good. He returns to us again on Tuesday evening.

I did not think to have written a long letter when I began, but I have found the employment draw me on, and I hope I shall have been giving you more pleasure than pain. Remember me kindly to Mrs. J. Bridges (I am so glad she is with you now), and give my best love to Lizzie and all the others.

I am, my dearest Fanny,
Most affectionately yours,
CASS. ELIZ. AUSTEN.

I have said nothing about those at Chawton, because I am sure you hear from your papa.

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The weather here in the UK has been getting colder with freezing winds blowing down from the north. Last night was most unusual for this time of year as autumn was quickly ousted by winter. Last night we had lightning, a thunderstorm, followed by snow – huge, fat flakes of twirling ice hurtling to the ground and settling to form a blanket over the garden and the street outside. Everywhere looks so pretty, and as I write there is a pink glow from the sun as it rises, gilding the tops of snow-covered roofs with rose and gold. A day to stay in by the fire, I think!

Here, in contrast to the chill outside, is a lovely review from Sharon at her blog, Ex Libris

Title: Lydia Bennet’s Story Author: Jane Odiwe Publisher: Sourcebooks Rating: 5/5

“The true misfortune, which besets any young lady who believes herself destined for fortune and favour, is to find that she has been born into an unsuitable family.” (pg. 9)

The opening line of Chapter 1 of Jane Odiwe’s sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice describes the character of Elizabeth Bennet’s youngest sister Lydia to a tee. In Lydia Bennet’s Story, Jane Odiwe brings to life Lydia’s lively, high-spirited character as we gain insight to her side of the Wickham debacle through her eyes – and her heart.

Lydia Bennet’s Story begins at the point where Lydia becomes increasingly involved with that dastardly rake, George Wickham. Lydia, who cares not to think beyond a new bonnet and how many suitors will ask her to dance at the next assembly, falls quickly under Wickham’s spell. To Lydia, who is high spirited and wants nothing more than to be married to a wealthy, handsome soldier, Wickham seems to be the man of her dreams. But she finds out the hard way that Wickham’s heart has never been hers and that he only wants her as a connection to Mr. Darcy and his money.

Odiwe weaves her fiction into Austen’s story seamlessly, as we follow Lydia through the aftermath of her marriage to Wickham and the subsequent scandals she is subjected to because of him. We also watch Lydia transform from a selfish girl into a mature young woman who wants nothing more than to love and be loved – in style, of course.

I enjoyed Lydia Bennet’s Story immensely. It was a fun story with everything I love about good Regency fiction – good writing, plenty of period descriptions and background information that lend authenticity, and romance that is exciting but not over the top. Odiwe did an excellent job of staying true to Austen’s style while creating new characters and plots to make the story fresh and interesting. She also gave me a new appreciation for the character of Lydia. In an age of numerous Austen sequels, this one is definitely worth reading.

The illustrations show Jane Austen’s first home, Steventon Rectory, Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra walking in the snow outside their home at Chawton.

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I’m thinking about my sister today, it’s her birthday. Happy Birthday Gaynor! Although we now live far apart, it’s easy for us to keep in touch by phone and e-mail. When you consider that people in Jane Austen’s day had only the post to maintain communication when they were apart, it’s difficult to appreciate how limiting that must have been, though I must admit that I still get a thrill when I receive a letter, especially when it comes from overseas.

Jane Austen enjoyed a very close relationship with her sister and it would seem that they both had a happy childhood.Their mother and father educated them at home until 1782 when they both went away to school with their cousin Jane Cooper. Cassandra was to go alone at first but Jane would not be parted from her and though only seven, went away to Oxford, to a Mrs Cawley.

Painting of Jane and Cassandra at their brother James’s wedding

There in the following year the school was struck by a terrible ‘putrid sore throat’ but Mrs Cawley decided not to inform parents. Jane Cooper wrote to her mother who arrived with her sister Mrs Austen, to take the girls home. Sadly, Mrs Cooper caught the infection and later died.
Finally, the girls attended the Abbey School at Reading.It seems the education here was very casual and relaxed. So long as the girls saw their tutor in the mornings, their afternoons were free. Imagine Jane’s excitement when her brother Edward and cousin Cooper were allowed to take the girls out to dinner at a local inn.

Drawing by Ellen G. Hill
Jane loved reading a wide range of literature including novels and poetry. She could read French and some Italian, play the piano, sing and dance. Her embroidery and sewing skills were excellent; some examples of her handiwork can still be seen at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton.

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I’m thinking about my sister today, it’s her birthday. Happy Birthday Gaynor! Although we now live far apart, it’s easy for us to keep in touch by phone and e-mail. When you consider that people in Jane Austen’s day had only the post to maintain communication when they were apart, it’s difficult to appreciate how limiting that must have been, though I must admit that I still get a thrill when I receive a letter, especially when it comes from overseas.

Jane Austen enjoyed a very close relationship with her sister and it would seem that they both had a happy childhood.Their mother and father educated them at home until 1782 when they both went away to school with their cousin Jane Cooper. Cassandra was to go alone at first but Jane would not be parted from her and though only seven, went away to Oxford, to a Mrs Cawley.

Painting of Jane and Cassandra at their brother James’s wedding

There in the following year the school was struck by a terrible ‘putrid sore throat’ but Mrs Cawley decided not to inform parents. Jane Cooper wrote to her mother who arrived with her sister Mrs Austen, to take the girls home. Sadly, Mrs Cooper caught the infection and later died.
Finally, the girls attended the Abbey School at Reading.It seems the education here was very casual and relaxed. So long as the girls saw their tutor in the mornings, their afternoons were free. Imagine Jane’s excitement when her brother Edward and cousin Cooper were allowed to take the girls out to dinner at a local inn.

Drawing by Ellen G. Hill
Jane loved reading a wide range of literature including novels and poetry. She could read French and some Italian, play the piano, sing and dance. Her embroidery and sewing skills were excellent; some examples of her handiwork can still be seen at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton.

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