Quote Jane

“There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.” ― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

zondag 5 januari 2014

Pride, prejudice and an Irish connection that Austen could never have imagined

Maggie Armstrong – 04 January 2014

It would be such fun to go to Pride and Prejudice in the Gate with Jane Austen. The book is 200 years old this year and you would get to ask her about posthumous celebrity. You would get to ask her what she meant by having Mr Darcy describe the Irish as "savages". And you'd get to ask her what she thought of three of her favourite nieces ending up in Ireland.

Mr Darcy's slight gives us insight into Jane Austen's own prejudices. When Elizabeth first shirks Mr Darcy at a local dance, in an intrepid demonstration of "treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen", Darcy is encouraged to jig along to some Irish and Scottish airs. "Every savage can dance," he snaps. The comment from literature's worst-tempered hero shows Ireland was a colony Jane Austen knew little about and most definitely feared. Her brother Henry was sent here under General Cornwallis to deal with the 1798 Rebellion.

As a maiden aunt, Jane Austen dispensed advice to younger family members. When her niece Anna was working on a novel, she told her in a chary letter not to even write about Ireland, "as you know nothing of the Manners there". Had she not died at 41, Austen would surely have worried about her niece Cassandra marrying an Irishman, and what that meant for the family.

Edward Austen Knight.

Marianne, Louisa and Cassandra Knight were the youngest daughters of Austen's brother Edward Knight. Their stories of privilege and displacement to Ireland add to what little we know of Jane Austen's short life, and deepen our knowledge of the Famine and the Land Wars they lived through.

Dr Sophia Hillan, who discovered their tombstones on a hilltop in Donegal, describes their life here as their "long years of exile". Her book May, Lou & Cass: Jane Austen's Nieces in Ireland is interesting for Austen fans and a sturdy read for anyone curious about the 19th Century.

The girls grew up in a Palladian mansion very different to Jane Austen's rectory in Hampshire. They called her "poor Aunt Jane". While Maiden Aunt Jane's role in the family was to read to them and supervise their needlework, we know from her letters that she also would have been a great fun house guest. On one visit, she planned to "eat ice & drink French wine". Marianne remembers how she wrote.

"Aunt Jane would sit quietly working beside the fire in the Library, saying nothing for a good while and then would suddenly burst out laughing, jump up and run across to a table to write something down and then come back to the fire, and go on quietly working as before." By working, she means darning. Aspiring writers (men too) might try that out.

In 1837, Cassandra Knight, the Jane Bennet of the sisters, married the dashing Lord George Hill, a young Irish nobleman stationed in Dublin Castle as Comptroller of the Household of the Lord Lieutenant. The match took her to Dublin and then the depths of Donegal when he bought a property near the sea.

Lord George was a Gaelic scholar and reformist, and chairman of the Relief Commission in Donegal during the Famine. He built the Gweedore Hotel, which still stands.
After Cassandra's death in childbirth (the daughter, little Cassandra, would become a Gaelic speaker and social reformer), Louisa married Lord George. Described as "nun-like" by one novelist, she moved to Gweedore in 1847 at the height of the Famine and became involved with relief works.

The niece to have most absorbed Jane Austen's spirit, or its avatar the boisterous Lizzie Bennet, was Marianne, her god-daughter and a witty, free-spirited gal.
Austen took her to the theatre aged 12, and left her a gold chain in her will.
She moved here after Lord George's death aged 83, undertaking a storm-tossed journey from Kent to Donegal to care for Louisa. The two grew old together, and Marianne lived with niece Cassandra until aged 95.
Sophia Hillan found the graves of these characters clambering with nettles and wild flowers. Theirs is a story of how the landowning class came to regard their exile as their home. And they give us just a little bit of ownership over their minder Jane Austen's genius.

Irish Independent independent.ie
Hillan tells the sometimes complicated but fascinating tale of Edward Knight and his wife, Elizabeth’s children, who featured  so frequently in Jane Austen’s letters. She concentrates on the lives of Louisa (Lou-below) who was Jane’s goddaughter, Marianne (May) and Cassandra (Cass), but of course, during the course of the tale, we hear much about the lives of the other seven children and their aunts and uncles.
Louisa and Cassandra married the same man, Lord George Hill of Gweedore in Donegal. He married first Cassandra who died in 1842, of puerperal fever after the birth of her last child . In 1847, after she had cared for her sister’s children for five years, Lord George Hill married Louisa. This was marriage that caused much discussion and distress as such marriages were then unlawful in Victorian England. Indeed, the couple travelled to Denmark so that they could be married, as it would have been impossible for them to have been married in England, as marriages between brother and sisters-in-law were then considered illegal on the grounds of consanguinity.
The story of their time in Ireland where Lord George was seem as an improving but strict landowner is truly fascinating and absorbing. Sophia Hillan writes with great insight and sensitivity on the terrible time of the Irish Famines and the actions of landlords whose acts, which now seem cruel and incomprehensible. These acts  were often prompted by the desire for efficiency but  ultimately failed, tragically, to understand the customs, habits and nature of the Irish over whom the Anglo-Irish landlords possessed such power. The later part of the book deals with this subject magnificently and I found myself rapidly turning the pages,desperate to know the outcome of Lord George’s actions.

The sister I enjoyed reading about most was Marianne (May-shown above). Her story could have been heartbreaking, but her strength of character and bravery made it one of triumph over adversity. She never married but devoted herself to looking after her father and then,after his death,  her brothers. She did indeed begin life as an Emma Woodhouse figure, the daughter of a great house, Godmersham in Kent, administering the household and overseeing the care of the poor in the parish under her care after the marriage of her sister Fanny. She eventually moved from Godmersham to Chawton where she lived with her brother Charles Bridges Knight, who was rector of Chawton, and like her Aunt Jane, she seems to have enjoyed her quiet, settled life in that village. But she ended her life as a Miss Bates, impoverished and without a real home to call her own, settling in Ballyarr in Donegal, with her widowed sister, Lou, where she eventually died. I loved her character, with its refusal to be cowed by circumstances, her positive outlook and above all, her humour. She did indeed seem to inherit some of her Aunt Jane’s strongest character traits. I would love someone to reproduce in facsimile her Garden Book which she kept while she lived in Chawton.
I would urge all of you to buy this book, because the story of these sisters and their lives in England and most of all 19th century Ireland is so vibrantly presented to us by Sophia Hillan. I’ve read it twice now- the second time to savour all teh twists and turns of  the fascinating tale. It is available as a Kindle edition if you are running out of books space, or prefer e-books. I am certain you will not be disappointed by this wonderfully written book.
Austen werd geboren in Hampshire. Haar vader was een geestelijke. Het grootste deel van haar leven bleef zij in haar geboortestreek. Austen had zes broers en een oudere zuster, Cassandra, met wie zij zeer hecht was. Het enige onbetwiste portret van Jane Austen is een gekleurde schets die door Cassandra werd gemaakt en nu in de National Portrait Gallery in Londen hangt. In 1801 verhuisde de familie naar Bath. In 1802 werd Austen ten huwelijk gevraagd door de rijke Harris Bigg-Wither en zij stemde toe; de volgende dag deelde ze echter mee dat zij haar woord niet kon houden en trok haar instemming in. De reden hiervoor is niet bekend, maar Austen is nooit getrouwd. Na de dood van haar vader in 1805 woonden Jane, haar zuster en haar moeder daar nog verscheidene jaren tot zij in 1809 naar Chawton verhuisden. Hier had haar rijke broer Edward een landgoed met een plattelandshuisje, dat hij aan zijn moeder en zusters schonk (dit huis is tegenwoordig open voor het publiek). Zelfs nadat zij naam gemaakt had als romanschrijfster bleef zij in relatieve stilte leven, maar haar gezondheid ging sterk achteruit. Er wordt nu aangenomen dat zij de ziekte van Addison had, waarvan toen de oorzaak nog onbekend was. Ze reisde naar Winchester om behandeling te zoeken, maar stierf daar en werd begraven in de kathedraal.
Tot Austens beroemdste werk behoort de roman Emma. Het boek wordt vaak aangehaald vanwege de perfectie van vorm. Moderne critici blijven ook nieuwe perspectieven ontdekken op het scherpe commentaar van Austen betreffende de klasse van jonge, ongehuwde, aristocratische Engelse vrouwen in de vroege 19e eeuw.


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