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Posts Tagged ‘Chawton House Library’

Inquiring readers, periodically Christine Stewart sends us her impressions in her quest to understand Jane Austen and study her novels and life in Embarking on a Course of Study. Here is her latest submission. Sandy Lerner, whose successful career as co-founder of Cisco Systems provided her with the fortune to renovate Chawton House, Edward Austen Knight’s  second grand house, and found Chawton House Library, spoke about Jane Austen’s concept of money and wealth in “Money Then and Now: Has Anything Changed?” at the JASNA AGM in NYC earlier this month. While I found her talk to be riveting (the salon was packed) and thought-provoking, some of us disagreed with a number of points she made. (More about that speech in a later post.) Christine also recently heard Sandy speak at Goucher College. Here are her impressions.

Sandy Lerner, savior of Chawton House, now Library, author of the P&P sequel, Second Impressions, visited Goucher last night to give a talk, a reading, and sign copies of her book.

Sandy Lerner at Goucher, image @Christine Stewart

About Sandy Lerner

If you’re not familiar with Lerner:  “Lerner in 1992 bought and restored an estate once owned by Jane Austen’s brother, called Chawton House, in Hampshire, England. She has transformed it into the Center for the Study of Early English Women’s Writing, and is currently underwriting the digitization of the works of female authors who lived in England between 1600 and 1830. The 10,000 volumes, not all of them novels, include works by Austen, Mary Shelley, Frances Sheridan and Maria Edgeworth, among many others, as well as a collection of cookbooks by Quakers.” (Piedmont Maverick by Suzanne Gannon). Lerner co-founded Cisco Systems with her (now ex) husband, and later a cosmetic company called Urban Decay, which sold unusual (at the time) nail colors like green and blue. Their slogan was ‘Does Pink Make You Puke?’ She once posed naked on horseback for Forbes Magazine. In short, she is an interesting, eccentric, wicked smart woman who owns a farm in Ayrshire, Virginia. She bought a 125 year lease on Chawton House in 1993.

My friend Clare and I went to the talk at Goucher College in the (still shiny and new!) Athenaeum. This is where Alberta Burke’s famous Jane Austen Collection  is housed. The Batza Room, where the Jane Austen Scholars talk every two years, was packed (50-75 people). So were the chairs. We were all pretty much sitting on top of each other, so that made it rather unpleasant when a man reeking of onions and gin sat down next to poor Clare. She bore it bravely, but we joked about how much we wished women still carried lavender scented handkerchiefs to bury their noses in.

Goucher’s president Sanford (Sandy) Ungar was there, which always signals that the visitor is a big deal, as if we didn’t know! Outside the door, the table was laden with the very prettily bound books (sort of blue and leathery looking) and elaborate bookmarks from Chawton Library, which you received when you bought the book. I couldn’t get a clear shot of the table because of the swarm of people.

Sandy Lerner at Goucher College

When Lerner took the podium, the first thing she said was that she had just decided what she was going to talk about, which might give you an indication of how well prepared she was. Clare and I enjoyed the talk, for what it was, a quick summary of her love of Austen and buying Chawton and what it is today, and a quick recap of writing the book, with some lamenting about not receiving the proper reviews, how agents and editors won’t talk to her, because she self-published. I think she spoke for, maybe 15 minutes?  (My notes on her talk will follow the post.) There was an awkward pause and she offered to read, but didn’t have a book (!). One was borrowed from the audience and she read for 10 minutes, a very quick scene between Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Colonel Fitzwilliam.

Read more for my notes about writing the book on my blog, Embarking on a Course of Studyhttp://www.embarkingonacourseofstudy.com/2012/10/sandy-lerner-visits-goucher-second-impressions.html

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The Emporium at JASNA’s 2012 AGM in NYC provided several delightful surprises, among which was meeting the staff of Jane Austen’s World Magazine and Chawton House Library a their respective booths. Jane Austen’s Regency World editor, Tim Bullamore, was selling a variety of magazines and books. The music you hear in the background of the first video is William Herschel’s Sonata in D Op4 No4, which came with the March/April 2010 edition of the magazine. Tim also spoke about Sex, Money and Power in Death Obituaries in the Time of Jane Austen, which I will discuss in more detail in a later post. (Music: With permission from Tim Bullamore, CD from Mar/Apr issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World.)

The staff of Chawton House Library, shown behind the second booth, were  the Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Stephen Lawrence, Director of Research, Dr. Gillian Dow, and Director of Development, Ms. Eleanor Marsden (in the last scene with Mr. Lawrence) were also at their stations during various times throughout the conference. It was a pleasure to meet them. Janeites will know Dr. Dow, who also lectures at the University of Southampton in England, from her articles and books on Jane Austen and women’ studies. I have had the pleasure in the past to email Stephen Lawrence about permissions from Chawton House, most particularly in reproducing images of Edward Austen Knight’s suit, which required extensive restoration. Read my article here.

Edward Austen Knight’s Frock coat with lining. Image @Chawton House

Some of the items I purchased from both booths are shown in the video below. I was most particularly pleased to purchase The Compleat Housewife by Elizabeth Smith, reissued by Chawton House. I also purchased four back issues of Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine. You will also see the lovely Sense and Sensibility the Musical booklets, which I used to take notes, the Conference workshop guide, and a tin of tea distributed by the Minneapolis MN JASNA group, where the 2013 AGM meeting will be held. Topic? Pride and Prejudice, of course.

Sandy Lerner, shown left below, one of the keynote speakers, is the driving force behind the resurrection of Chawton House, Edward Austen Knight’s second grand house, and Chawton House library.

Sandy Lerner, author of Second Impressions, and Rachel Brownstein, author of Why Jane Austen? at the author’s book signing at JASNA AGM

Second Impressions is written by Ava Farmer, Sandra Lerner’s nome de plume. Profits from the sale of this book go to the Chawton House library.

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Gentle Readers, these fantastic images are by Tony Grant from London Calling. The text are quotations from the fabulous Chawton House Library site.  This site is rich with information and history. I am so impressed with the section on chickens, which were rescued and given a chicken-friendly coop for roosting and free ranging. The horses are magnificent as well. Sandy Lerner has done a magnificent job of turning this once ruin of a house into an historic library and museum. As Tony’s images show, this house is a world treasure .

Drive leading to Chawton House. Image @Tony Grant

In April 1551, the land was sold for £180 to John Knight, whose family had been tenant farmers in Chawton since the thirteenth century and who had prospered sufficiently to wish to acquire a large estate.

Front entrance. Image @Tony Grant

The medieval manor house was replaced by John Knight’s grandson, also called John, with the largely Elizabethan house that can be seen today.  – History

Window detail. Image @Tony Grant

Eaves. Image @Tony Grant

Climbing shrub. Image @Tony Grant

Side view with side door. Image @Tony Grant

In 1781, Thomas Knight II inherited, but when he and his wife Catherine showed no sign of having children of their own, they adopted a son of the Reverend George Austen, who was a cousin of Thomas Knight’s.

Edward is introduced to the Knights. Image @Chawton House Library

Edward Austen Knight eventually took over management of the estates at Godmersham and Chawton in 1797, living mostly at Godmersham and letting the Great House at Chawton to gentlemen tenants.

Chawton Cottage, where Jane Austen lived. Image@Tony Grant

In 1809 he offered a house in the village to his mother and two sisters Cassandra and Jane, and it was there that Jane Austen began the most prolific period of her writing life.

Image @Tony Grant

Sandy Lerner. Image @The Telegraph

By 1987, when Richard Knight inherited, parts of the house were derelict, the roof leaked, timbers were rotting and the gardens were overgrown with scrub. The decline was halted in 1993 with the sale of a 125 year lease to a new charity, Chawton House Library, founded by the American entrepreneur and philanthropist, Sandy Lerner, via the charitable foundation established by her and her husband Leonard Bosack, the Leonard X. Bosack and Bette M. Kruger Foundation.

Kitchen garden entrance. Image @Tony Grant

The grounds and gardens at Chawton House Library continue to be in the process of restoration although a great deal has already been achieved. The focus of the restoration is the English landscape period of the eighteenth century together with Edward Austen Knight’s early nineteenth-century additions of walled kitchen garden, shrubberies and parkland. – The estate

Kitchen gardens. Image @Tony Grant

The Library Terrace was built between 1896 and 1910 (probably in 1904-05) by Montagu Knight (1844-1914). The terrace was actually an Arts & Crafts addition and almost certainly influenced by Edwin Lutyens.

Going round the back of the house. Image @Tony Grant

View from the gardens. Image @Tony Grant

Gravel paths are not typical of the English Landscape period and were probably introduced by Edward Knight II (1794-1879).

View from one of the gravel paths. Image @Tony Grant

According to Montagu Knight, the brick Upper Terrace was built in 1901. In the early twentieth century this was a broad grass terrace with a central gravel path, recently uncovered.

Image @Chawton House Library

In Jane Austen’s time, the kitchen garden was located to the north of the Rectory (opposite the current entrance to Chawton House). Edward Austen Knight had the idea to build a new walled garden during his sister’s lifetime: in 1813, Jane Austen wrote to her brother Frank:

‘[h]e [Edward Austen Knight] talks of making a new Garden; the present is a bad one & ill situated, near Mr Papillon’s; — he means to have the new, at the top of the Lawn behind his own house’.

However, her brother’s plans did not come to fruition until after her death in 1817. – The estate

The grounds. Image @Tony Grant

The farm buildings. Image @Tony Grant

The fields. One can see the horses. Image @Tony Grant

The Wilderness dates from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and was originally set out geometrically with trees in straight rows, a practice which was later dropped. It survived the English Landscape improvements.

St. Nicholas Church. Image @Tony Grant

Church Copse. This area to the rear of St. Nicholas Church was cleared between 1999 and 2000, revealing the Knight family pet cemetery and the rear lychgate into the churchyard. Of particular interest in this area are the several large, important eighteenth-century lime trees and a yew tree, probably from the same period. – The estate

Image @Tony Grant

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Dancing With Mr. Darcy is a fabulous book. A book reviewer isn’t supposed to reveal an opinion right away, but I have many reasons for liking this compilation, which began as a short story competition in 2009 sponsored by Chawton House Library to celebrate the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s arrival in the Hampshire village of Chawton. This was a momentous occasion in Jane’s life, for she would enjoy her most productive years there.

Dancing with Mr. Darcy is great for bed time reading.

When my head hits the pillow, I can stay awake for 20 minutes at the most. That’s just the right amount of time to savor one of these stories, which is between 2,000-2,500 words in length, reflect upon it, and turn off the light. The book will remain on your bedstand for at least 20 nights if you stick to this schedule. But here’s the kicker: It’s hard to put down.

The stories are truly original.

The inspiration for these stories was taken from any theme in Jane Austen’s novels, like a character or single sentence. Authors could also draw upon Chawton House, an Elizabethan mansion, as their muse. Whatever they decided, they were encouraged to get their creative juices flowing. And were they ever!

The book opens with a story inspired by Chawton and a dead Jane Austen crossing the River Styx . She is accused in a Higher Court by the older female characters she created for wilfully portraying them as manipulative harpies and scolds. I wondered how author Victoria Owen would resolve this curious plot, but it ended beautifully and logically. Another story that drew my attention was Felicity Cowie’s ‘One Character in Search of Her Love Story Role‘, in which the central charcter, Hannah Peel, a contemporary heroine, finds her voice by interacting with classic literary heroines, including Jane Bennet and Jane Eyre.

Fresh voices are given an opportunity to shine.

Unknown authors do not often get to compete in a public forum for an opportunity to have their work published with the backing of a prestigious institution. I read the short biographies at the end of the book, and while many of the authors took creative writing or majored in English, some are still students, one lives on a farm, another is a book reviewer, several are scholars, another is a math and science teacher, and yet another was educated to be a lady. With such a variety of backgrounds, it is no wonder that the stories are not clichéd.

Many of the tales had contemporary settings, and there were times that I had to puzzle out just what their connection was to Jane Austen or Chawton house. Like all compilations, I preferred some stories over others, such as Kelly Brendel’s Somewhere, inspired by a passage in Mansfield Park, and Eight Years Later, which is Elaine Grotefeld’s take of love lost and found again in the mode of Persuasion.

Jane Austen would have approved.

The variety of the stories, and their excellence and fresh approach to the Austenesque genre makes this book stand out from the pack. Jane Austen would have approved of their original plots, their intelligent writing, and the variety of ideas that sprang from the original impetus. These twenty stories were selected from 300 submissions, and one can only imagine how many good stories barely missed the cut.

Sarah Waters at Chawton House, July 2009. Image @Chawton House

In a different way, I found this compilation equally as thrilling as A Truth Universally Acknowledged, edited by Susannah Carson, a book of critical insights by famous authors about Jane Austen that I adored and reviewed late last year. Stories that are judged, weighted, or juried tend to have an edginess and contemporary bite that attract me.

In this instance, the stories were judged by a Chair judge, Sarah Waters, the author of Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith, and a panel of judges: BBC journalist Lindsay Ashford; author Mary Hammond; Rebecca Smith (five-times great niece of Jane Austen, descended through her brother Frances); and freelance editor Janet Thomas.

The book is available today at your local or online bookseller. Run, don’t walk to obtain your own copy. I give it three out of three Regency fans and then some.

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Inquiring Reader, This post is the second part of solving the mystery of Cassandra Austen’s age in the 1841 census, which reader Craig Piercey brought to my attention. A number of people became involved in the mystery of Cassandra’s age, which was 68 at the time the census was taken, but was listed as 65. To review the situation, click on this link and read the emails sent to explain the anomaly.

The first letter came from Laurel Ann of Austenprose, who had left a comment on the first post.

Vic,  I have come across many discrepancies on census enumerations. The process is part of the problem. Families were asked to fill out their own sheets and then they gave them to the enumerator who transcribed them onto the sheets of record. The original family sheets do not survive. There is always the possibility of illegible handwriting, transcription error, the family did not understand the directions or people lied about their age! It is not considered a primary source document by the government or family historians. Cassandra’s christening record would serve as a legal record of her birth. Since her father filled this out, we can be pretty certain that it is correct. It is also confirmed in family letters. By her death in 1845 it was required to report deaths to the new Registrar and would have included a doctor’s verification. That is the best explanation I can offer. The government was primarily interested in  numbers. They used the data for general ranges like the number of children under 10 or men of military age etc. The fact that exact ages are listed from 1851 onward is a bonus to family historians now, but not so much for the government then. Census records are not an exact science. I am glad you had so much interest in this puzzle. The discrepancy does appear odd to one who has not done family research.  I hope this is helpful. LA

St. Nicholas Church at Chawton, taken by @sneakymagpie

Laurel Ann was not the first person to point out that the Census taker would use a general number that could be divided by five. Before I received her answer, I had written to Ray Moseley, Fundraising Administrator of Chawton House. He replied promptly:

Dear Vic,

Sarah Parry our education officer at Chawton House has replied as below. I do hope that this helps. If we can of any further help please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Ray

Cassandra and Cassandra Austen grave

Hi Ray

I think that the following might be an explanation.

This is the web page for the 1841 census on the National Archive website: http://search.ancestry.co.uk/iexec/Default.aspx?htx=List&dbid=8978&ti=5538&r=5538&o_xid=24149&o_lid=24149&offerid=0%3a21318%3a0 It makes the point about how ages were recorded on this census and notes if over 15, the ages “were usually rounded down to the nearest 5 years”.

I also had a look at Deirdre le Faye’s A Chronology of Jane Austen and her Family (Cambridge University Press 2006). The entry referring to the 1841 census reads:

“June 6, Sunday
National census this year shows CEA [Cassandra Elizabeth Austen] living at Chawton Cottage, with three maids – Mary Butter, Emily Kemp, Jane Tidman – and one manservant, William Sharp. HTA [Henry Thomas Austen] and Eleanor Jackson are also there on census night.”

Cassandra was born on 9 January 1773 and would have been 68 on the night of the census so it would have been correct, by the format of the 1841 census, to show her age as 65.

Henry would have celebrated his 70th birthday in 1841. He was born on 8 June 1771. The 1841 census was taken on 6 June – just two days before his 70th birthday. So the figures are correct as Henry would have been 69 on the night of the census so again, by the format of how to record ages in the 1841, census it would therefore have been quite correct to show his age as 65. Henry’s surname isn’t shown on the census because the mark below the “Austen” of Cassandra’s name and alongside Henry’s Christian name is the equivalent of ditto marks.

Hope this helps.

Best
Sarah

Chawton Cottage

Sarah’s explanation dovetails in with other speculations, but because she works for Chawton House as an education officer, I will take hers as the last word on the subject.

Tony Grant, London Calling, wrote Louise West at the Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton about the same time that I wrote Chawton House, and her reply, while supportive, did not include additional information.

Hi Vic,
I just received this today from Louise West at Chawton Cottage. Remember our exciting foray into working out Cassandra’s age? … Here you are. – Tony

Dear Tony

Many thanks for sharing with me this interesting correspondence.  I really admire all the effort that has gone into trying to solve the mystery and wish I could offer anything more illuminating but I’m afraid I’m as much in the dark as you are.  If you uncover anything definite I would be very interested to hear.

Best wishes

Louise West
Collections and Education Manager
Jane Austen’s House Museum
Chawton
Alton

So, gentle reader. This is the end of our research into this topic. I hope others have found this journey into uncovering a mystery as interesting as I have. Thank you for stopping by, and thanks to all who have answered our emails and helped, especially Laurel Ann, whose initial comments and follow-up email unlocked the mystery first.

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Chawton House Library has in its collection a rare green suit worn by Jane Austen’s brother, Edward. The suit – a child’s frock coat with matching breeches – looks very similar to the clothes young Edward is seen wearing in the Wellings Silhouette, which depicts his presentation to his adoptive parents. The suit is made of green silk, while the coat is fully lined with gold taffeta. Edward apparently liked oversized buttons, which can be seen in this frock coat and in the Grand Tour painting he had commissioned during his travels through Europe as a young man.

As you can see from the images of the suit (below), extensive and expensive conservation work is needed to stabilize the suit’s condition to prevent its further deterioration. Work on long term preservation is required before the suit (which was made in 1789 ) can be displayed, and donations are needed for its long term preservation.

Edward Austen Knight on the Grand Tour

The suit’s provenance is impeccable. While experts can’t categorically say that this is the actual jacket worn in the Wellings silhouette, it certainly belonged to Edward. The suit was passed down through generations of the Knight and Bradford family, and finally ended up in a dressing up box belonging to the Bradford family. The Bradfords are relations of the Knight Family and also descendents of Edward Austen Knight. Richard Knight, current owner of Chawton House, was given the suit some years ago by the Bradford Family.

Edward a fortunate child, had two families who considered him their son: the Austens and the Knights. The following history (which is reproduced by permission), chronicles how Edward Austen was adopted by the Knight family, a practice commonly followed by childless couples of the time:

Rev. George Austen presents his son Edward to the Knight family

The freehold of Chawton House has remained in the Knight family ever since the sixteenth century, though on many occasions the ownership passed laterally and sometimes by female descent, requiring several heirs to change their surnames to Knight. Sir Richard Knight, who inherited at the age of two in 1641, had no children and he left the estate to a grandson of his aunt, Richard (Martin) Knight. His brother, and then his sister, Elizabeth, inherited in their turn. During the first part of the eighteenth century, Elizabeth undertook the further development of the house and gardens. She married twice, but again no children were born, and when she died the estate passed to her cousin Thomas Brodnax May Knight, who united it with his own large fashionable property in Kent, Godmersham Park.

In 1781, Thomas Knight II inherited, but when he and his wife Catherine showed no sign of having children of their own, they adopted a son of the Reverend George Austen, who was a cousin of Thomas Knight’s. The Austen’s had six sons and two daughters, and the Knights adopted the third eldest son, Edward. Edward Austen Knight eventually took over management of the estates at Godmersham and Chawton in 1797, living mostly at Godmersham and letting the Great House at Chawton to gentlemen tenants.

In 1809 he offered a house in the village to his mother and two sisters Cassandra and Jane, and it was there that Jane Austen began the most prolific period of her writing life. Her career as a novelist took off with the publication of Sense and Sensibility in 1811, and she went on to publish a further three of her novels while at Chawton (two more followed shortly after her death). She lived in Chawton almost until her death in 1817, only moving to Winchester near the end of her life to be nearer medical care.

This meeting and subsequent adoption is a pivotal moment in English literary history because, had not Edward been adopted by Thomas and Catherine Knight, and then inherited Chawton House, his sister, Jane Austen may not have been able to complete her novels and as a consequence, probably the most famous women writers of the age, would never have been discovered.

The Library intends to eventually display the suit in the Oak room at Chawton House, a room well known by Jane Austen and where the original of the ‘Wellings’ silhouette is located. Supporters are asked to donate funds for the project, which will cost £12,000 ($ 17, 318). A stockman and environmentally controlled cabinet need to be custom-made for a secure display. A child’s mannequin, which must be constructed of conservation quality materials, will also be made for the display.

Green silk Breeches, dated to approximately 1789.

Frock coat with lining

Additional plans include making a replica suit to show to school children. Students and visitors will learn about the social history and background of the suit, including its style and construction, and from what materials the suit was made (silk and taffeta), who made it, and where the silk came from.

To make a donation, click on the link to the Virgin Giving website.

About Chawton House:

The house is open to the public for ‘Open’ tours in the afternoon of Tuesdays and Thursday each week, and pre booked tours most days of the week. Conferences  based on studies of the ‘Long’ 18th Century and women writers are scheduled regularly. Last year an important three day international conference was held to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of Jane Austen’s arrival in Chawton. The event was attended by Austen scholars from all over the world. In excess of 8,000 visitors visited the house, gardens and library last year.

Chawton House (Image from website)

Chawton House Library works in partnership with Jane Austen’s House Museum to provide high quality visits to both sites for primary, secondary and A level schools and colleges. These include presentations of Jane Austen Life and works, tours of both houses, workshops relating to dress, manners and the use of herbs, dancing in replica clothing and an opportunity to handle real objects from the period of Austen’s life. For this work both Houses were awarded a Heritage Education Trust award.  Restoration of Edward’s suit is integral to the history of Chawton House and also has an important place in the interpretation of the life and legacy of Jane Austen.

Thomas Draddyll in 1789 wears a typical boy's suit of the era. Painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Breakdown of Project Costs

  • Conservation of the Suit: £6629.35
  • Display Case: £4788.13
  • Mount or Stockman: £587.50
  • Replica Suit: £646.25
  • Total Project Costs £12,651.23

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