We have a treat for everyone for Jane Austen’s Birthday: Our friend Cinthia García Soria, proprietor of Jane Austen Castellano, the Spanish-language Austen discussion mailing list, has written a long article about C.E. and H.M. Brock, brothers who illustrated all of Jane Austen’s novels at least twice (P&P three or four times!). Cinthia has collected the Brock-illustrated editions of Austen’s novels, and has made a study of the illustrators’ lives and work. In the article, she explains the differences between the various Brock-illustrated editions, and if you have ever been confused by seeing different styles or coloring of the various illustrations, or by a book that was described as “Brock-illustrated” and seeing different drawings than expected, then this article will explain it all. Cinthia has been working on this paper for a long time and we are incredibly proud that she has asked us to post it on Molland’s, where we have archived most of the Brocks’ Austen illustrations, along with some by other artists. Cinthia is the force behind that archive, and provided most of the Brock illustrations–we literally could not have done it without her! We encourage you to read this fascinating history over at Molland’s.
We received an e-mail from a Gentle Reader who had just learned of George Austen’s existence, was unable to find much information about him, and thought perhaps there was some sort of coverup going on. Well, there was, but but it happened a hundred years ago. We’re all about transparency these days in Austenland, if we’re not actively making stuff up. However, we thought it was not a bad idea to look through our books and see what information we could pull together about George Austen, Gentleman.
Jane Austen was the seventh of eight children of George Austen and Cassandra Leigh Austen. If you read some of the older biographies, you would be forgiven for thinking that Jane had only six siblings–five brothers and a sister. James Edward Austen-Leigh’s Victorian sensibilities unfortunately led him to leave one of Jane’s brothers out of his Memoir of his aunt: George, the second Austen son, named for his father. It is possible that Edward forgot all about poor George; he never lived with the Austens except for a few years of childhood, and Edward was writing the Memoir sixty years after Jane’s death and forty after George’s. In any event, it was only in the later part of the 20th century that Austen biographers acknowledged George’s existence, and because of the failure of his own or the following generation to mention him, there is not that much to tell.
George was born in 1766, and like his siblings, sent out to a neighboring cottage to be nursed until he was old enough to not need constant tending. Unfortunately, it became obvious early that he was not developing like most children. Jane’s surviving letters never mention George, but letters from various family members mention him. The Rev. George Austen wrote that he took comfort that his second son “could never be a bad or wicked child.” George’s godfather, Tysoe Saul Hancock, Mr. Austen’s brother-in-law, mentioned in a letter to his wife Philadelphia about “the case of my godson who must be provided for without the least hopes of his being able to assist himself.” It seems clear from these comments that the family considered George to be mentally deficient.
In 1770, Mrs. Austen wrote to another sister-in-law that three-year-old George had suffered a fit for the first time in a twelvemonth. It is unclear what she meant by a “fit”–it is possible, of course, that George suffered from epilepsy.
Mrs. Austen’s brother, Thomas Leigh, also had unspecified mental and/or physical problems. He was housed with a family named Cullam or Culham in the Hampshire village of Monk Sherborne, and eventually George was sent to live there as well. Short of actually keeping him in the family–and with seven other children to deal with, not to mention the boys being tutored by Mr. Austen, who also lived at Steventon, it is difficult to criticize the Austens for sending him away to be cared for–this might have been the best option, certainly better than sending poor George to some kind of public asylum.
Mr. Hancock’s daughter, Eliza, married and gave birth to a child who also had “fits” and did not develop like other children; he was slow to walk and talk. Eliza’s cousin, Philadelphia Walter, wrote to her brother that they feared Hastings would be mentally deficient like “poor George Austen.” Hastings, however, remained with his mother, who tended him loyally until his death at age fifteen.
Many scholars think that George Austen was deaf as well. In one of Jane Austen’s letters, she mentions talking to a deaf man “with my fingers,” that is, using sign language, so it is thought that perhaps Jane learned sign language to communicate with her brother. Deafness in itself was not enough to banish George to obscurity in a cottage, so if he was indeed deaf, it was in addition to other health problems, whether mental or physical or both. Austen biographer Claire Tomalin opines that George may have suffered from cerebral palsy, which often is accompanied by deafness, and certainly would have kept him from walking. It is horrifying to think that George, limited by physical problems, might have had a perfectly good mind, but was unable to communicate, and assumed to be mentally deficient–imagine having the brain of an Austen, and no way to use it! But all this speculation on George’s condition is just that: speculation. We know only that his family considered him to be unable to take care of himself.
At Mrs. Austen’s death in 1827, some stocks that she owned were sold and the proceeds divided among her living children, except, strangely, for George. Edward Knight, who was of course adopted by rich, childless cousins, did not need this money, and made it over to George to pay for his care.
Despite any physical problems that George may have had, he lived, like five of his siblings, a long life. He died of dropsy at Monk Sherborne in 1838, at age 72. On his death certificate, he was identified as a “gentleman.”
Tomalin, Claire. Jane Austen, A Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.
Tucker, George Holbert. A History of Jane Austen’s Family. Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing Limited, 1998.
I picked up Pride and Prejudice at age 14—and almost immediately put it down again as too boring and hard to understand! (I clearly have changed my mind since then.) Instead of Austen my real introduction to the Regency period was through the novels of the incomparable Georgette Heyer (1902-1974). Her novels were romantic and even sensual, in the writer’s meaning of being filled with concrete textures of smells, tastes and sounds and other details of life in Regency England. They charmed me at 14 and they charm me still.
Austen’s novels have survived so well and lend themselves so easily to new incarnations in part because there is little detail. There are certainly background nuances that, if you understand them, add so much more to your reading of Austen (as our Esteem’d Editrix showed us in her recent article on carriages). But you don’t have to know your phaeton from your landau to enjoy Austen. Similarly, she gives us little detail about her character’s physical appearance, leaving plenty of scope for the imagination.
Thanks to Laurel Ann for asking us to participate in her Pride and Prejudice Without Zombies event!
An author—especially a talented and clever one like Jane Austen—subtly imparts information about her characters with details such as their occupation, their mode of conversation, and even something seemingly so minor as their carriage. In Pride and Prejudice, the alert reader can pick up information not only about the characters but about the plot itself from the type of carriage used by a character in a particular situation.
In Jane Austen’s day, a carriage was definitely a luxury item. They were expensive to purchase, naturally, and there were ongoing expenses in repair, storage, coachmen to care for and operate them, and the ongoing expenses of maintaining or renting horses to pull them; so it was a matter of interest to the impertinently nosy whether a person kept a carriage, and what kind. It was almost a method of broadcasting one’s wealth to the world.
Catherine Knatchbull Knight, the wife of Thomas Knight, is best known to Janeites as the adoptive mother of Jane Austen’s brother Edward; Edward’s inheritance of the Knight estates brought him, among other properties, the ownership of Chawton Cottage, which he was able to offer to his mother and sisters as a home, and in which Jane wrote and revised her novels for publication. Most biographies do not see her as a great influence on Jane Austen’s life and writing, though she clearly took an interest in the Austen ladies and also in Jane Austen’s published writing.
Mrs. Knight’s relationship to the Austen sisters makes an appearance in a letter written by Lady Knatchbull, née Fanny Knight, Edward’s eldest daughter and Jane Austen’s favorite niece, to her younger sister:
Yes my love it is very true that Aunt Jane from various circumstances was not so refined as she ought to have been from her talent, and if she had lived fifty years later she would have been in many respects more suitable to our more refined tastes. They were not rich & the people around with whom they chiefly mixed, were not at all high bred, or in short anything more than mediocre & they of course tho’ superior in mental powers & cultivation were on the same level as far as refinement goes–but I think in later life their intercourse with Mrs. Knight (who was very fond & kind to them) improved them both & Aunt Jane was too clever not to put aside all possible signs of ‘common-ness’ (if such an expression is allowable) & teach herself to be more refined at least in intercourse with people in general. Both the aunts (Cassandra and Jane) were brought up in the most complete ignorance of the World & its ways (I mean as to fashion etc.) & if it had not been for Papa’s marriage which brought them into Kent, & the kindness of Mrs. Knight, who used often to have one or other of the sisters staying with her, they would have been, tho’ not less clever and agreeable in themselves, very much below par as to good society and its ways. If you hate all this I beg yr’ pardon, but I felt it at my pen’s end & it chose to come along & speak the truth.
Leaving aside Janeites’ opinions of Lady Knatchbull’s state of mind when that letter was written, one can pull out the comments about Mrs. Knight—that she was fond of and kind to Jane and Cassandra Austen. The mentions of Mrs. Knight in Jane’s letters bear that out, and also indicate that the fondness was returned, and her kindness much appreciated.
Nearly all the images in this post are clickable to see a larger version.
As long as there has been a Jane Austen fandom, Janeites have been frustrated by a lack of good images of their favorite author. The only authenticated image of Jane is a small pencil-and-watercolor sketch done by Cassandra Austen, currently on display in the National Portrait Gallery in London. Many Janeites are dissatisfied with the watercolor: the colors are faded, and Jane does not look especially happy to be sitting for the painting. In our opinion, having seen the painting in person twice, we do not think photographs do it justice. The detail of the eyes and hair is quite good. Had Cassandra finished the entire piece in such detail, we would want no other image of Jane.
One of the best-known images of Jane Austen is the well-known silhouette found pasted into a copy of Mansfield Park, bearing the legend “L’aimable Jane” (the amiable/pleasant/nice Jane). We have always found this story a bit suspicious. It’s never been clear to us whose copy of MP contained this silhouette. If it belongs to a family member or close friend or even an old boyfriend, that makes it more likely to have been Jane, but why would a perfect stranger have a silhouette of Jane Austen in his or her book? How would he or she even know Jane’s name? Remember, she published anonymously. However, the silhouette is charming and we have no problem with it being a symbolic representation of the youthful Jane Austen. The silhouette is also owned by the NPG.
“You have not been long enough in Bath,” said he, “to enjoy the evening parties of the place.”
“Oh! no. The usual character of them has nothing for me. I am no card-player.”
“You were not formerly, I know. You did not use to like cards; but time makes many changes.” – Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot in Persuasion, Vol. II, Ch. X (22)
Reading Jane Austen’s novels, one gets the impression that the author, like Anne Elliot, was no card player. Whist parties are generally portrayed in her novels as insipid, though closer examination shows that it was, perhaps, the company that made such parties insipid, rather than the entertainment. Whist is a fun game and rather addictive; to play it well requires a good memory, the ability to think quickly, and a knack for strategy.