User:Simmaren/Sandbox/Draft Jane Austen's Family

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Rev. George Austen presenting his son, Edward, to Mr and Mrs Thomas Knight

The following article is part of an in-depth biography of Jane Austen (16 December 1775 - 18 July 1817), the English novelist, author of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.


The coat of arms of Jane Austen's family, showing a shield with three lions' paws beneath a sitting stag crest.[1]

Austen's family[2] was embedded in a network of connections (mainly through her mother's family) to the gentry and (distantly) the aristocracy. George Austen was descended from a family of woollen cloth manufacturers who had risen since the early 17th century through the professions to the lower reaches of the landed gentry.[3] Mrs. Austen's great uncle, James Brydges, was created the first Marquess of Carnavon and Duke of Chandos; his wife's name, Cassandra, became common in Mrs. Austen's family. Mrs. Austen was a member of the prominent Leigh family having its principal residences at Adlestrop in Gloucestershire and at Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire. Mrs. Austen's uncle, Theophilus Leigh, was master of Balliol College at Oxford for about fifty years and, in 1738, served a three year term as Vice Chancellor of the University. Her brother, James Leigh-Perrot, inherited a large fortune through another great uncle and established himself first at Adlestrop and later at Stoneleigh Abbey; Mrs. Austen visited and traveled with the Leigh-Perrots frequently. Two of Jane Austen's brothers married cousins of the Earl of Craven.[4]


Silhouette of Cassandra (Leigh) Austen, c. 1800?

The Rev. George Austen and Cassandra Leigh, Jane Austen's parents, married on 26 April 1764. Rev. Austen became the rector of the Anglican parish at Steventon, in Hampshire, and moved his family to the rectory there in 1765, where they remained until his retirement in 1801. According to Mary Lascelles, George Austen "was gentle and strongly attached to his family; he occupied himself with the cares of his parish, his farm and his pupils, and left a reputation for scholarship and literary taste which was supported in his day by having prepared two of his sons, with other pupils, for Oxford, and rests more firmly now on his quick perception of his daughter's gifts."[5] Irene Collins quotes the description of George Austen by his grandson, James Edward Austen-Leigh, as "a sort of center of refinement and politeness". Collins describes his "enthusiasm for the classics" and "his love of a well-turned English sentence" and mentions his lively interest in current affairs and contemporary drama and literature.[6] Oliver MacDonagh describes George Austen's importance to his family: "George Austen's steady benevolence and care for his children's interests were generally attested. He provided Jane, and the rest, with secure surrounds within which to develop; he set the tone for the Austen temperateness, loyalty to one another, and judicious sacrifice to the corporate cause."[7] Jane Austen's mother had an entirely different personality, "stronger and more trenchant..., [a] fit mother for her elder daughter [Cassandra]." She was intelligent, interested in literature and a good writer: "her letters are written in a precise, eppigramatic style" according to Irene Collins. Jane Austen's relationship with her mother appears to have been proper, dutiful and perhaps a bit distant rather than affectionate.[8]

As junior members of substantial gentry families, Rev. and Mrs. Austen lived on the lower fringes of the English gentry,[9] but successfully established themselves after long effort with the help of their extended families. George Austen's relatives supported his education at Tonbridge School and the University of Oxford, and a third cousin presented him with two livings worth about £210 per year together with about 200 acres of land to farm.[10] Rev. Austen supplemented the income from his livings by selling produce he grew and by running a residential boy's school for three or four boys at a time at the rectory from 1773 until 1796 but, even so, was often in debt until his later years.[11] By the time of his retirement in 1801, Rev. Austen's income from tithes totaled about £600 per year and his annual income from farming added an additional £300 or more, a total amount sufficient (given the size of his family) for a comfortable style of life. After his death, Mrs. Austen's personal assets (her dowry) produced an income of only £122 per year which, supplemented by a small income accruing to Jane's sister Cassandra from an inheritance and annual contributions from Mrs. Austen's sons, brought the family income to about £450 per year.[12]


Jane Austen's immediate family was large and close-knit.[13] James and Henry were educated at Oxford on scholarships.[14]

James Austen, c. 1790?

James Austen[edit]

James was born on 13 February 1765 and christened on 17 March.[15] Described by Le Faye as "a gentle and studious boy", James entered St John's College, Oxford in July 1779 at the age of fourteen.[16] James became an Anglican clergyman, obtaining his first curacy at Stoke Charity in July 1788.[17] According to Le Faye, James was "the least ambitious and most home-loving" of all of the brothers, therefore after being priested in 1789 he decided to become curate of Overton, a small town near his home of Steventon. He enjoyed foxhunting and lived in a small house.[18] James married Anne Mathew, the daughter of General Edward Mathew. Le Faye writes, "Anne Mathew must have seen in James Austen her last chance of matrimony, and he had a weakness for elegant, aristocratic young women."[19] With this connection, James received the vicarage of Cubbington in Warwickshire, increasing his income.[20] The couple's first child, Jane Anna Elizabeth, was born on 15 April 1793; Jane sent her new niece two "Miscellanious [sic] Morsels".[21] James's wife Anne suddenly died on 3 May 1795.[22] In ?, James married a friend of the family, Mary Lloyd. However, while James was happy in his marriage, Mary was often jealous of Eliza (to whom James had proposed first) and according to Le Faye "irritatingly tactless and officious".[23] He became his father's successor as rector of Steventon parish.

George Austen[edit]

George was born on 26 August 1766 and christened on 29 September.[24] George went to live with local family at a relatively young age because he was "mentally abnormal and subject to fits".[25] Le Faye speculates that he may also have been deaf and dumb, since Jane Austen mentions her knowledge of the deaf and dumb alphabet at one point.[26] Her second oldest brother, George, suffered developmental disabilities (perhaps prelingual deafness) and lived under custodial care away from home for his entire life.[27]

Edward Austen[edit]

Edward Austen, c. 1788

Edward was born on 7 October 1767 and christened on 22 November.[28] In 1779, Mr. Austen's distant cousin Thomas Knight II of Godmersham, Kent, and his new wife Catherine visited the Austen family while on their wedding tour. Enchanted with Edward, the couple took the young boy along with them on their journey through the countryside. Edward visited the Knights frequently afterwards. After several years of marriage, the Knights realized that they could not have any children and decided to adopt Edward and make him their heir.[29] Edward went on a four-year Grand Tour, starting in 1786, during which he visited Switzerland, Dresden, and Rome. When he returned to England in 1790, he settled at Godmersham to learn from his adoptive father to manage a large estate.[30] Edward married Elizabeth Bridges (1773-1808) on 27 December 1791 and moved to Rowling, a small home given to the couple by Elizabeth's family.[31] The couple's first child, Fanny Catherine, was born on 23 January 1793, and Jane sent her what are now known as the "Scraps" in her Juvenilia.[32] Thomas Knight II died on 23 October 1794 and Edward became the official heir to his estates.[33] Edward began to live permanently at Godmersham in 1797 and inherited the estate (and changed his surname to "Knight") upon the death of Catherine Knight in 1812.[34]

Henry Thomas Austen[edit]

Henry Austen, c. 1820?

Henry was born on 8 June 1771 and christened on 12 July.[35] Henry matriculated at St John's College in July 1788.[36] Henry married Eliza de Feuillide on 31 December 1797.[37] Of her brothers, Jane Austen felt closest to Henry, who became a banker and, after his bank failed, an Anglican clergyman. Henry succeeded his father as his sister's advisor in practical affairs and acted as her literary agent during her lifetime. His large circle of friends and acquaintances in London included bankers, merchants, professional men, publishers, painters and theatrical people and provided Austen with a window on social worlds not normally visible from a small parish in rural Hampshire.[38]

Cassandra Elizabeth Austen[edit]

Cassandra was born on 9 January 1773 and christened on 25 January.[39] Both Cassandra and Jane Austen were largely educated at home but attended boarding schools in Oxford, Southampton and Reading from 1783 to 1786, at which point their formal educations ended.[40] Cassandra became engaged to one of her father's former pupils, Tom Fowle, sometime around December 1792.[41] He died of yellow fever off of Saint Domingo in February 1797.[42] Eliza wrote in a letter at this time that "Jane says her Sister behaves with a degree of resolution & Propriety which no common mind could evince in so trying a situation."[43] Cassandra never married; instead, she took over the responsibilities of the Austen household from her mother. Fanny Caroline Lefroy later wrote that Jane and Cassandra "seemed to lead a life to themselves within the general family life, which was shared only by each other. I will not say their true, but their full, feelings and opinions were known only to themselves. They alone fully understood what each had suffered and felt and thought."[44]

Francis William Austen[edit]

Francis was born on 23 April 1774 and christened on 27 May.[45] He entered the Royal Naval Academy in Portsmouth in April 1786.[46] In December 1788 he sailed for the East Indies as a Volunteer on the HMS Perseverance; he became a Midshipman the following year and transferred to the HMS Minerva in November 1791. He was promoted to Lieutenant in December 1792 and did not return home until the end of 1793.[47]

Charles John Austen[edit]

Charles was born on 23 June 1779 and christened on 30 July.[48] In July 1791, he entered the Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth, as had his brother Francis.[49]


Eliza de Feuillide[edit]

Family theatricals[edit]

Amateur theatricals were an important family activity for the Austen family, part of "the rage for amateur theatricals that obsessed English society from the 1770s well into the nineteenth century...."[50] In December 1782, the Austen brothers and their friends staged a play by Thomas Francklyn, a friend of Samuel Johnson, entitled Matilda, in the dining parlor of Steventon rectory. This conventional historical tragedy was the first known of many theatrical productions by the family. In July, 1784, the family mounted a more ambitious production of Richard Sheridan's comedy The Rivals with prologue and epilogue written by brother James. The 1787-1788 "season," presented for the first time in the Austen barn, included presentations of Susanna Centlivre's melodrama The Wonder! A Woman Keeps a Secret, Beaumont and Fletcher's comedy The Chances, David Garrick's farce Bon Ton, and Henry Fielding's burlesque Tom Thumb. The family's last known productions were presented early in 1790: The Sultan and a farce by James Townley entitled High Life Below Stairs. Jane Austen would certainly have joined in these activities, as a young spectator at first and as a participant later on.[51] Most of these plays were comedies, which illuminates the tastes of the Austen family and suggests one way in which Jane Austen's natural comedic and satirical gifts were cultivated.[52] Austen's experience with the theatricals can be seen reflected in three short plays in the JuvenaliaThe Visit, The Mystery and The First Act of a Comedy—and a five-act play entitled Sir Charles Grandison or the Happy Man. This was an adaptation of episodes from one of her favorite novels, History of Sir Charles Grandison, by Samuel Richardson.[53] The last theatricals were staged in the winter of 1788-89.[54]


  1. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 236, note 1.
  2. ^ Park Honan points out that Jane Austen took "the widest possible view of the word 'family'. For Jane ... that word included more than merely husband, wife and children....she viewed the effective 'family' as a whole collection of second cousins, great-aunts, nephews and ancestors. Her large view of the family was not unique but it was intensely felt." Honan, p. 30.
  3. ^ Honan, pp. 11-14.
  4. ^ Tomalin, pp. 6, 13-16, 147-151, 170-171; Donald J. Greene, "Jane Austen and the Peerage," in Ian Watt, editor, Jane Austen — A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice-Hall, Inc. (Englewood Cliffs 1963) [[[International Standard Book Number|ISBN]] 0-679-44628-1], pp. 156-157; Keymer, pp. 388-389; Fergus, "Biography," pp. 5-6.
  5. ^ Lascelles, p. 2.
  6. ^ Collins, 46.
  7. ^ MacDonagh, pp. 111-112.
  8. ^ Collins, 132; MacDonagh, p. 112
  9. ^ Described by a contemporary writer, Clara Reeve, as the "inferior gentry." For an extended quotation from Reeve and a brief discussion of English gentry social classes at this period, see Vivien Jones, "General Notes — Social Class" in Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Penguin Books (New York 2005) [[[International Standard Book Number|ISBN]] 0-14-303623-8], pp.370-371, and footnote 2 to Chapter 3 and footnote 2 to Chapter 4 of Book I on pages 374-375 in the same edition. See also Honan, pp. 29-30. Thomas Keymer gives the following demographic facts about the upper ranks of English society at this time (1803): the peerage consisted of about 300 families, beneath which (in status) were the gentry families of approximately 540 baronets, 350 knights, 6,000 landed squires and 20,000 gentlemen, comprising about 1.4% of the population of England and enjoying about 15.7% of national income. Thomas Keymer, "Rank," in Janet Todd, editor, Jane Austen in Context, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, U.K. 2005) [[[International Standard Book Number|ISBN]] 0-521-82644-6], p. 390.
  10. ^ ; Collins, 54, 56.
  11. ^ Park Honan, 17-18.
  12. ^ Deirdre Le Fay, "Chronology of Jane Austen's Life," in Edward Copeland and Juliette McMaster, editors, The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, U.K. 1997) [[[International Standard Book Number|ISBN]] 0-521-49867-8], p. 1; Jan Fergus, "Biography," in Jane Austen in Context, pp. 5-6; Thomas Keymer, "Rank," p. 389; Jan Fergus, "The Professional Woman Writer," in The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, p. 31, Footnote 44; Tomalin, pp. 186-187; MacDonagh, pp. 44-54;for "comfortable style of life", see Collins, 56-58. For an informative discussion of the meaning of various income levels in terms of status and life style at this time in England, see Edward Copeland, "Money," in The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, pp. 131-138. For a comment on the importance of annual income figures in everyday social intercourse in Austen's world, see Honan, pp. 88-89.
  13. ^ Fergus, "Biography," p. 3; Tomalin, p. 142; Honan, pp. 23, 119; William Austen-Leigh and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh, Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters — A Family Record, Smith, Elder & Co. (London 1913), p. 50-51.
  14. ^ Another illustration of the importance of family connections: George Austen's two sons attended Oxford on "Founder's Kin" scholarships for which they qualified because they could demonstrate descent through the Leigh family from Sir Thomas White, the founder of St John's College. Tomalin, p. 26; Honan, p. 56.
  15. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 18.
  16. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 41; Collins, 20..
  17. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 63.
  18. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 71.
  19. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 71.
  20. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 71-72.
  21. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 83-84.
  22. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 90.
  23. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 111.
  24. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 19.
  25. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 22.
  26. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 22.
  27. ^ Park Honan believes that he was probably a deaf-mute and notes that Jane as a child was observed by a relative using "finger-language" to communicate with him. Honan, pp. 9-10.
  28. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 20.
  29. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 43; Tucker, "Jane Austen's Family", The Jane Austen Companion, 147; Honan, 25.
  30. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 54-55.
  31. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 70.
  32. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 83-84.
  33. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 87.
  34. ^ Tucker, "Jane Austen's Family", 147
  35. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 24.
  36. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 63.
  37. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 105.
  38. ^ MacDonagh, pp. 50-51; Honan, p. 24, 246; Lascelles, p. 4.
  39. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 25.
  40. ^ Tomalin, pp. 9-10, 26, 33-38, 42-43.
  41. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 81.
  42. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 101.
  43. ^ Qtd. in Le Faye, Family Record, 101.
  44. ^ Qtd. in Le Faye, Family Record, 104.
  45. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 26.
  46. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 56.
  47. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 65.
  48. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 41.
  49. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 72.
  50. ^ George Holbert Tucker, "Amateur Theatricals at Steventon," in The Jane Austen Companion, p. 1.
  51. ^ Le Fay, "Chronology," pp. 2-3; Tucker, "Amateur Theatricals at Steventon," pp. 1-2; Tomalin, pp. 31-32, 40-42, 55-57, 62-63; Honan, pp. 35, 47-52, 423-424 (Footnote 20).
  52. ^ Honan, pp. 53-54; A. Walton Litz, Jane Austen — A Study of Her Artistic Development, Oxford University Press (New York 1965), pp. 14-17.
  53. ^ Tucker, "Amateur Theatricals at Steventon," pp. 2-3.
  54. ^ Le Faye, Family Record, 68.


  • Austen-Leigh, William (1913). Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters — A Family Record. London: Smith, Elder & Co.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  • Collins, Irene (1994). Jane Austen and the Clergy. London and Rio Grande: The Hambledon Press. ISBN 1-85285-114-7. 
  • Copeland, Edward (1997). Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen. Cambridge, U. K.: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-49867-8.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  • Grey, J. David, managing editor (1986). The Jane Austen Companion. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. ISBN 0-52-545540-0 Parameter error in {{isbn}}: Invalid ISBN.. 
  • Honan, Park (1987). Jane Austen — A Life. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-01451-1. 
  • Lascelles, Mary (1939; reprinted 1966). Jane Austen and Her Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  • Le Faye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: A Family Record. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. ISBN 0521534178
  • Litz, A. Walton (1965). Jane Austen — A Study of Her Development. New York: Oxford University Press. 
  • MacDonagh, Oliver (1991). Jane Austen — Real and Imagined Worlds. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-05084-4. 
  • Tomalin, Claire (1997). Jane Austen — A Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-679-44628-1. 
  • Todd, Janet, editor (2005). Jane Austen In Context. Cambridge, U. K.: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-82644-6. 
  • Watt, Ian, editor (1963). Jane Austen — A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-130-53769-0 Parameter error in {{isbn}}: Invalid ISBN.. 
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