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The Reverend George and Mrs. Austen: A closer look at Jane Austen’s Parents

Jane Austen (1775-1817) was the seventh of eight children born to respectable, middle class Parents. Her mother, Cassandra Leigh Austen (1739-1827) had family connections to a Duke as well as Lord Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey. Her father, the Reverend George Austen (1731-1805) was known as ‘The Handsome Proctor’ of St. John’s College, Oxford. It was here that the two met while Miss Leigh was visiting her uncle, Dr. Theophilus Leigh, Master of Balliol Collge. It seems that Cassandra was much like her daughters when young, witty and shrewd, while Rev. Austen was more scholarly and calm. They seemed to compliment each other perfectly. It would seem that Rev. Austen followed Miss Leigh to Bath to continue his courtship of her, as they were married there, at “old” St. Swithin’s Church, April 26, 1764.

After their marriage, George took on the rectorship of Steventon, a good sized parish in Hampshire. He had obtained this position through his cousin, Thomas Knight of Godmersham Park (who would later adopt the Austen’s third son, Edward, eventually leading him to change his name to Edward Austen-Knight and inherit Godmersham, as well as extensive holdings in Chawton.) He also held the living of the neighboring parish of Deane, thanks to his Uncle Francis, who had paid for his education at Tonbridge and supported him through Oxford.

The Austen’s were parents to 8 children who, almost without exception, were outstanding in their chosen fields:
The eldest, James (1765-1819) was studious, went away to Oxford university at the age of 14 in 1779, and was ordained a clergyman in 1787. He had some literary pretensions and in 1789-1790 edited (with Henry) a university magazine at Oxford called The Loiterer, which ran for sixty issues.

Not much is known of the Austen’s second son, George, who was somewhat retarded and lived with a nearby family. The third son, Edward (1767-1852) was steady and business-like, and in the early 1780’s was adopted by Thomas and Catherine Knight. He was sent by them on the “grand tour” of continental Europe in 1786-1788, and eventually inherited their estate of Godmersham, Kent, and took the last name of “Knight”. Henry Austen (1771-1850) was Jane Austen’s favorite brother; he was witty and enthusiastic in whatever he did, but not always successful. He entered Oxford University in 1788, married Eliza de Feuillide (who died in 1813), and eventually ended up as a Calvinist-leaning minister, after a business bankruptcy in 1815. He saw Jane Austen’s novels Persuasion and Northanger Abbey through the press after her death.

Cassandra Elizabeth (1773-1845) was Jane Austen’s only sister, and her closest confidante. Over a hundred letters from Jane Austen to Cassandra have survived, giving us our most intimate look at some of the details of Jane Austen’s life. Cassandra’s fiancé Thomas Fowle died of yellow fever in the Caribbean in 1797. After this, Cassandra never married. Frank (1774-1865) and Charles (1779-1852) both entered the Royal Naval Academy at Portsmouth at the age of 12, fought in the British navy during the Napoleonic wars, and both eventually rose to become admirals.

In order to supplement his income, the Rev. Austen took in students turning the Steventon parsonage into a private boarding school. These young men included Lord Lymington, son of the Earl of Portsmouth, and the son of Warren Hastings, first governor general of British India and possible relation to the Austen’s neice, Eliza De Feuillide. He also took on tennents and farmed the family’s property in a style similar to Mr. Bennet of Pride and Prejudice fame. While the children were still young, the family must have enjoyed a certain amount of financial security.

It was the Deane connection that would lead to a lasting friendship for the Austen daughters. The Lloyd family were tenants of the Austens, and moved into the Deane parsonage in 1789.

Jane and Cassandra were good friends with Mary and Martha Lloyd, and Mary Lloyd eventually married James Austen, Jane’s brother. The Lloyds moved to Ibthorpe in 1792 and Jane and Cassandra stayed with them in October 1792.

In November 1800 Jane stayed with Martha Lloyd at Ibthorpe where she had ‘the pleasure of spending my time very pleasantly’ despite wet weather which made it ‘too dirty even for such desperate walkers as Martha and I to get out of doors’.

She returned to Steventon in the December to be greeted with the news that her family was moving to Bath, and family tradition has it that she fainted away, the shock was so great.

In 1800, at the age of 69, Rev. Austen had made the decision to retire from the ministry, turning the family living over to his son James. The family then moved to lodgings in Bath At this point Bath was, while still fashionable, past it’s glorious heyday. Much of society had, at this point, moved on to Brighton, where the Prince Regent had his ‘Royal Pavilion’. The healing waters and glittering assembly rooms had been left to the elderly, the infirm and the less wealthy who still wanted a taste of society, if not quite so expensively.

During these years (1801-1804) the family enjoyed many holidays to seaside resorts such as Lyme and Sidmouth, during the summer months. It was on one of these trips that Jane met and reportedly fell in love with the mysterious stranger. Unfortunately, though he had plans to meet up with the family again later on, he died before the relationship could progress.

On January 21, 1805 the Reverend George Austen died at the age of 73, and was buried St. Swithin’s Church. It was a shock to the family, and as the settlements their father enjoyed were life benefits, it left the Austen women in a precarious pecuniary position. Fortunately the Austen’s sons came together to make up their mother’s income to the £600 enjoyed when Mr Austen was alive, thus ‘saving her from misery and their sisters from the “slave-trade” of governessing.’ Still, Bath was becoming more and more a commercial city and it became difficult for three women with only £600 a year to find suitable lodgings. They soon moved to Clifton, another Spa town, with their friend Martha Lloyd.

Cassandra Austen, Jane Austen’s older sister, had helped Martha nurse her mother during her final illness, and after the latter’s death at Ibthorpe in Apr 1805, Martha Lloyd moved in with the Austens at Bath, and stayed with them after the move to Chawton in 1809. It was a happy arrangement and Martha stayed for about 20 years altogether.

From Clifton, the family moved to Southampton to be with Francis Austen, at that time, a Captain in the Royal Navy, and stay with his wife while he was away. Finally, in 1809, he Austens were able to move to their final home, Chawton Cottage, which had been recently inherited by Edward Austen Knight. Here, life was much like it had been at Steventon during the girl’s early years. Their income provided for two servants (one indoors and one outdoors) and they could rely on extended visits and house parties given by their many relatives and friends for amusement.

It was from Chawton Cottage that Jane Austen would write, edit and eventually publish her works (four novels were published during her lifetime, two others in the year after her death.) The Austen women shared the household chores, with Jane, Cassandra and Martha supervising the household work and meals and Mrs. Austen working in her significant garden.

Jane Austen died in 1817. Mrs. Austen, followed in 1827 and was buried in the Chawton cemetery. Soon thereafter (in about 1828) Martha Lloyd also left the household, this time to marry Frank, then Admiral Sir Francis Austen. Cassandra Austen lived on alone at Chawton Cottage until her death in 1847.

Bibliography:
The Jane Austen Information Page
The Literary Encyclopedia
A Charming Place: Bath in the Life and Novels of Jane Austen
by Maggie Lane, 1988


Laura Boyle is a longtime fan of Jane Austen and the Regency. She runs Austentation, a company that specializes in custom made Regency Accessories.

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Cassandra Austen: Jane Austen’s Beloved Older Sister

Cassandra Austen

Cassandra Austen, Jane’s beloved sister

If Cassandra were going to have her head cut off, Jane would insist on sharing her fate.”
Mrs. Austen

Cassandra Austen silhouette Cassandra Austen – middle name Elizabeth  – was born January 9, 1773, two years before her famed sister Jane. In a family of 6 boys, the girls became fast and close friends.

Education was extremely important to the Austens. The girls’ father, Rev. George Austen, ran a boarding school out of their home, the Rectory, in Steventon. In 1783, Jane and her older sister Cassandra went briefly to be taught by a Mrs. Cawley (the sister of one of their uncles). They were brought home after an infectious disease broke out in Southampton. In 1785-1786 Jane and Cassandra went to the Abbey boarding school in Reading, which apparently bore some resemblance to Mrs. Goddard’s casual school in Emma. (Jane was considered almost too young to benefit from the school, but their mother is reported to have said that “if Cassandra’s head had been going to be cut off, Jane would have hers cut off too”.) This was Jane Austen’s only education outside her family. Within their family, the two girls learned drawing, to play the piano, etc.

Steventon Church Jane and Cassandra Austen returned home and lived at the Rectory, an integral part of their community until their removal to Bath in 1800. With the older brothers marrying and moving on to careers in the Church or military, room was made available for the two of them, who shared a room all their lives, to appropriate a sitting room next door. With its two windows, fireplace and brown patterned carpet, it was here that they kept their books, piano, sewing, drawing and writing materials. It was also in these rooms that Jane first experimented with her writing and penned The History of England (By a Partial, Prejudiced and Ignorant Historian) which Cassandra, ever the artist in the family, illustrated with portraits of the various kings and queens mentioned there (but who curiously resembled members of the Austen family.)

In about 1794, Cassandra became engaged to a former student of her father’s, Thomas Fowle. This engagement carried on for some time as Tom was waiting for a family living in Shropshire to become available. Eventually, he decided to join the military as an army chaplain and was sent to the Caribbean. Unfortunately he contracted Yellow Fever and died there in 1797. It was some time before the Austens heard the news and while Cassandra benefited from an annuity left in his will (she inherited Tom’s savings of £1000 which yielded about £50 per year.) she never recovered from this blow and, like Jane, never married.

Perhaps because of this connection the sisters remained each other’s closest confidant and friend. Cassandra (like Jane) frequently visited her brothers and their families, and other relatives and friends. It was the separations between herself and Jane, resulting from visits on which they did not both go, that necessitated the letters between them. The sisters wrote each other nearly every day while apart and over 100 of these missives survive today giving us a better picture of both Jane, the author, and the sister she loved so much.

In January 1805, during their lengthy stay in Bath, the Reverend Austen died. As would have been the case for the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice if Mr. Bennet had died, the income due to the remaining family (Mrs. Austen and her two daughters, the only children still at home) was considerably reduced — since most of Mr. Austen’s income had come from clerical “livings” which lapsed with his death. So they were largely dependent on support from the Austen brothers, summing to a total of about £450 yearly. Later in 1805, Martha Lloyd (the sister of James Austen’s wife, Mary) came to live with Mrs. Austen, Cassandra, and Jane, after her own mother had died.

In 1806 they moved from Bath, first to Clifton, and then, in autumn 1806, to Southampton. Two years later, Jane remembered (in a letter to Cassandra) with “what happy feelings of Escape!” she had left Bath. Southampton was conveniently near to the navy base of Portsmouth and the naval brothers Frank and Charles.

Chawton Cottage

In 1809 Cassandra Austen, her mother, sister Jane, and Martha Lloyd moved to Chawton, near Alton and Winchester, where her brother Edward provided a small house on one of his estates. This was in Hampshire, not far from her childhood home of Steventon.

Life in Chawton was pleasant and not unlike that which they had led early on in Steventon. Unfortunately, this respite, with Jane writing furiously (five of her six novels were written here) and Cassandra overlooking the housekeeping, was not long to be enjoyed. Cassandra’s beloved Jane had fallen ill with what doctors now believe to be Addison’s disease. In early 1817, the sisters moved to Winchester, in Alton, so that she could be under a physician’s care. Jane died there on Friday, July 18th 1817, aged 41.

Jane Austen was buried in Winchester Cathedral, near the centre of the north aisle. “It is a satisfaction to me to think that [she is] to lie in a Building she admired so much… 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” Cassandra later wrote. Cassandra destroyed many of her sister’s letters; one hundred sixty survived but none written earlier than her twentieth birthday.

Cassandra was destined to long outlive her sister Jane. She continued on at Chawton with regular visits to her brothers, nieces and nephews. In 1827 Mrs. Cassandra Austen, the girls’ mother, died and was buried in the Chawton cemetery. Soon thereafter (in about 1828) Martha Lloyd also left the household, this time to marry Cassandra’s younger brother Frank, then Admiral Sir Francis Austen.

Cassandra continued living alone until her death at the age of 72, in 1845. Many people blame Cassandra for the way she handled Jane Austen’s estate after her death. Others find her to have been the prudish, stiff elder sister who looked down on Jane’s flightiness and gaity. Still others balme her for what they consider to be her unflattering watercolor portrait of her sister. In reality, most of what we know of Jane Austen today, we owe to her sister Cassandra. It was she who filled in gaps in her sister’s life for generations after, leaving an oral record to supplement the written. It was she who gave us the only two authenticated likenesses of her sister. It was she who, while she did destroy many of the letters, preserved the majority of her sister’s extensive writings and most importantly, it was she to whom the letters were written, without which we might never have known the human side of one of the world’s favorite authors.

As with all those she knew, Jane Austen included sketches of Cassandra in with her characters. Discerning readers think they can catch glimpses of her in Jane Bennet and Elinor Dashwood, beloved elder sisters who bravely bear the loss of love. Others find her in the sentiments of Mrs. Croft in discussing engagement and marriage, “I would rather have young people settle on a small income at once, and have to struggle with a few difficulties together, than be involved in a long engagement.” No doubt, with the death of her fiancée fresh in her mind, the issue was much discussed between the sisters.

Excerpts from the Jane Austen Information Page, Jane Austen’s World by Maggie Lane, and other sources.

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James Henry “Leigh Hunt” Liberal author and Poet

James Henry Leigh Hunt (19 October 1784 – 28 August 1859) was an English critic, essayist, poet and writer. He was born at Southgate, London, Middlesex, where his parents had settled after leaving the newly formed United States of America. His father, a lawyer from Philadelphia, and his mother, a merchant’s daughter and a devout Quaker, had been forced to come to Britain because of their loyalist sympathies during the American War of Independence. Hunt’s father took holy orders, and became a popular preacher, but was unsuccessful in obtaining a permanent living. Hunt’s father was then employed by James Brydges, 3rd Duke of Chandos as tutor to his nephew, James Henry Leigh, after whom Leigh Hunt was named. Surprising to many Austen enthusiasts, this is the same James Henry Leigh who eventually inherited the Leigh family seat at Stoneleigh Abbey. His son, Chandos Leigh, 1st Baron Leigh was a second cousin of Jane Austen’s on her mother’s side. Jane visted Stoneleigh Abbey in 1806 and many feel that this great house was her inspiration for Sotherton Court in Mansfield Park. Regardless of whether Jane Austen ever actually met Leigh Hunt, she would, no doubt, have been familiar with his works and papers. Chandos Leigh was a schoolmate of Lord Byron’s at Harrow and retained both he and Leigh Hunt as close friends and confidants.

Leigh Hunt was educated at Christ’s Hospital from 1791 to 1799, a period which is detailed in his autobiography. He entered the school shortly after Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Charles Lamb had both left however Thomas Barnes was a schoolfriend of his. One of the current boarding houses at Christ’s Hospital is named after him. As a boy, he was an ardent admirer of Thomas Gray and William Collins, writing many verses in imitation of them. A speech impediment, later cured, prevented his going to university. “For some time after I left school,” he says, “I did nothing but visit my school-fellows, haunt the book-stalls and write verses.” His poems were published in 1801 under the title of Juvenilia, and introduced him into literary and theatrical society. He began to write for the newspapers, and published in 1807 a volume of theatre criticism, and a series of Classic Tales with critical essays on the authors.

In 1808 he left the War Office, where he had been working as a clerk, to become editor of the Examiner, a newspaper founded by his brother, John. This journal soon acquired a reputation for unusual political independence; it would attack any worthy target, “from a principle of taste,” as John Keats expressed it. In 1813, an attack on the Prince Regent, based on substantial truth, resulted in prosecution and a sentence of two years’ imprisonment for each of the brothers — Leigh Hunt served his term at the Surrey County Gaol. His visitors in prison included Lord Byron, John Moore, Lord Brougham, Charles Lamb and others, whose acquaintance influenced his later career. The stoicism with which Leigh Hunt bore his imprisonment attracted general attention and sympathy.

In 1810-1811 he edited a quarterly magazine, the Reflector, for his brother John. He wrote “The Feast of the Poets” for this, a satire, which offended many contemporary poets, particularly William Gifford of the Quarterly. The essays afterwards published under the title of the Round Table (2 volumes, 1816–1817), jointly with William Hazlitt, appeared in the Examiner.

In 1816 he made a mark in English literature with the publication of Story of Rimini. Hunt’s preference was decidedly for Chaucer’s verse style, as adapted to the Modern English by John Dryden, in opposition to the epigrammatic couplet of Alexander Pope which had superseded it. The poem is an optimistic narrative which runs contrary to the tragic nature of its subject. Hunt’s flippancy and familiarity, often degenerating into the ludicrous, subsequently made him a target for ridicule and parody.

In 1818 appeared a collection of poems entitled Foliage, followed in 1819 by Hero and Leander, and Bacchies and Ariadne. In the same year he reprinted these two works with The Story of Rimini and The Descent of Liberty with the title of Poetical Works, and started the Indicator, in which some of his best work appeared. Both Keats and Shelley belonged to the circle gathered around him at Hampstead, which also included William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, Bryan Procter, Benjamin Haydon, Charles Cowden Clarke, C.W. Dilke, Walter Coulson and John Hamilton Reynolds.

He had for some years been married to Marianne Kent. His own affairs were in confusion, and only Shelley’s generosity saved him from ruin. In return he showed sympathy to Shelley during the latter’s domestic distresses, and defended him in the Examiner. He introduced Keats to Shelley and wrote a very generous appreciation of him in the Indicator. Keats seems, however, to have subsequently felt that Hunt’s example as a poet had been in some respects detrimental to him.

After Shelley’s departure for Italy in 1818, Leigh Hunt became even poorer, and the prospects of political reform less satisfactory. Both his health and his wife’s failed, and he was obliged to discontinue the Indicator (1819–1821), having, he says, “almost died over the last numbers.” Shelley suggested that Hunt go to Italy with him and Byron to establish a quarterly magazine in which liberal opinions could be advocated with more freedom than was possible at home. An injudicious suggestion, it would have done little for Hunt or the liberal cause at the best, and depended entirely upon the co-operation of the capricious, parsimonious Byron. Byron’s principal motive for agreeing appears to have been the expectation of acquiring influence over the Examiner, and he was mortified to discover that Hunt was no longer interested in the Examiner. Leigh Hunt left England for Italy in November 1821, but storm, sickness and misadventure retarded his arrival until 1 July 1822, a rate of progress which Thomas Love Peacock appropriately compares to the navigation of Ulysses.

The death of Shelley, a few weeks later, destroyed every prospect of success for the Liberal. Hunt was now virtually dependent upon Byron, who did not relish the idea of being patron to Hunt’s large and troublesome family. Byron’s friends also scorned Hunt. The Liberal lived through four quarterly numbers, containing contributions no less memorable than Byron’s Vision of Judgment and Shelley’s translations from Faust; but in 1823 Byron sailed for Greece, leaving Hunt at Genoa to shift for himself. The Italian climate and manners, however, were entirely to Hunt’s taste, and he protracted his residence until 1825, producing in the interim Ultra-Crepidarius: a Satire on William Gifford (1823), and his matchless translation (1825) of Francesco Redi’s Bacco in Toscana.

In 1825 litigation with his brother brought him back to England, and in 1828 he published Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries, a corrective to idealized portraits of Byron. The public was shocked that Hunt, who had been obliged to Byron for so much, would “bite the hand that fed him” in this way. Hunt especially writhed under the withering satire of Moore. For many years afterwards, the history of Hunt’s life is a painful struggle with poverty and sickness. He worked unremittingly, but one effort failed after another. Two journalistic ventures, the Tatler (1830–1832), a daily devoted to literary and dramatic criticism, and Leigh Hunt’s London Journal (1834–1835), were discontinued for want of subscribers, although the latter contained some of his best writing. His editorship (1837–1838) of the Monthly Repository, in which he succeeded William Johnson Fox, was also unsuccessful. The adventitious circumstances which allowed the Examiner to succeed no longer existed, and Hunt’s personality was unsuited to the general body of readers.

In 1832 a collected edition of his poems was published by subscription, the list of subscribers including many of his opponents. In the same year was printed for private circulation Christianism, the work afterwards published (1853) as The Religion of the Heart. A copy sent to Thomas Carlyle secured his friendship, and Hunt went to live next door to him in Cheyne Row in 1833. Sir Ralph Esher, a romance of Charles II’s period, had a success, and Captain Sword and Captain Pen (1835), a spirited contrast between the victories of peace and the victories of war, deserves to be ranked among his best poems. In 1840 his circumstances were improved by the successful representation at Covent Garden of his play Legend of Florence. Lover’s Amazements, a comedy, was acted several years afterwards, and was printed in Leigh Hunt’s Journal (1850–1851); other plays remained in manuscript. In 1840 he wrote introductory notices to the work of Sheridan and to Edward Moxon’s edition of the works of William Wycherley, William Congreve, John Vanbrugh and George Farquhar, a work which furnished the occasion of Macaulay’s essay on the Dramatists of the Restoration. The narrative poem The Palfrey was published in 1842.

The time of Hunt’s greatest difficulties was between 1834 and 1840. He was at times in absolute poverty, and his distress was aggravated by domestic complications. By Macaulay’s recommendation he began to write for the Edinburgh Review. In 1844 Mary Shelley and her son, on succeeding to the family estates, settled an annuity of £120 upon Hunt; and in 1847 Lord John Russell procured him a pension of £200. Now living in improved comfort, Hunt published the companion books, Imagination and Fancy (1844), and Wit and Humour (1846), two volumes of selections from the English poets, which displayed his refined, discriminating critical tastes. His book on the pastoral poetry of Sicily, A Jar of Honey from Mount Hybla (1848), is also delightful. The Town(2 vols., 1848) and Men, Women and Books (2 vols., 1847) are partly made up from former material. The Old Court Suburb (2 vols., 1855; ed. A Dobson, 2002) is a sketch of Kensington, where he long resided. In 1850 he published his Autobiography (3 vols.), a naive and affected, but accurate, piece of self-portraiture. A Book for a Corner (2 vols.) was published in 1849, and his Table Talk appeared in 1851. In 1855 his narrative poems, original and translated, were collected under the title Stories in Verse. He died in Putney on the 28 August 1859, and is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery. In September 1966 Christ’s Hospital named one of its Houses in memory of him.


From Wikipedia.com

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George Austen

We spent Friday evening with our friends at the boarding-house, and our curiosity was gratified by the sight of their fellow-inmates, Mrs. Drew and Miss Hook, Mr. Wynne and Mr. Fitzhugh; the latter is brother to Mrs. Lance, and very much the gentleman. He has lived in that house more than twenty years, and, poor man! is so totally deaf that they say he could not hear a cannon, were it fired close to him; having no cannon at hand to make the experiment, I took it for granted, and talked to him a little with my fingers, which was funny enough. I recommended him to read Corinna.”
Jane Austen to Cassandra, December 27, 1808

One of the many things that made me love Becoming Jane was the interactions between Jane Austen and her brothers in the movie. Granted, the movie only included Henry Austen and George Austen there, and left Jane’s other brothers in the conversations only. But it was very important to me that George Austen, of all people, was included. People who have read JA biographies would learn that George was a forgotten son in the Austen family due to his mental incapability.

After reading more info about George, I was glad that Julian Jarrold decided to include George in the movie, paying homage to Jane’s abandoned brother. So, this is a short article and a tribute to George Austen. George Austen (1766 – 17 January 1838) was actually the second son of Revd. George Austen and Cassandra Leigh. He was born with a mental handicap; hence he was kept away from the rest of the Austen family. It was one of the dark secrets of the Austens that David Nokes elaborated in his 1997 biography, Jane Austen: a Life. However, Claire Tomalin’s book (2000) of the same title recalled George in a slightly different light; George still had the luxury of becoming the godsonof Mr. Hancock (Eliza De Feullide’s father).

Tomalin noted that George, who possibly suffered cerebral palsy, still lived in Steventon as a child. On November 8th, 1772, Mrs. Austen wrote to her relative Ms. Susannah Walter that she was at home with her four sons; that would mean that George was still in Steventon in 1772, with James, Edward and Henry. However, in 1779 a decision was made to trust George to a Culham family who lived in Monk Sherborne, about three miles from Basingstoke (Nokes’s version was Cullum, instead of Culham). George would later spend his entire seventy-two years there with his uncle, Mr. Thomas Leigh (brother of Jane’s mother Cassandra Leigh), who also suffered mental setback. Hence, based on Tomalin’s analysis, brother George Austen was still in Steventon when Tom Lefroy met Jane Austen during the 1795 Christmas holiday, as portrayed in Becoming Jane.

George Austen was rarely mentioned in the Austen family letters, except for several occasions, e.g. in a letter of July 8th, 1770 where Mr. Austen wrote to Susannah Walter that ‘We have this comfort, he cannot be a bad or a wicked child’ (Tomalin 2000, p. 8). However, the Austens seldom visited George in Monk Sherborne. At best, James Austen paid Mr. Francis Cullum a routine visit to give the latter the Austens’ contribution for George’s expenses (Nokes 1997). I am not sure if there is any letter of Jane talking about his brother George (she talked of other George, i.e. her nephew in Letter #60 (24-25 October 1808)(Faye 1997), but Tomalin mentioned that Jane Austen knew deaf and dumb sign language, as observed in her letter from the year 1808 (she talked ‘with my fingers’), hence it is possible that Jane sometimes interacted with Brother George in real life; or at least wrote about him in the confiscated letters. At any rate, it is very likely that Jane disliked her family’s indifferent treatment of George, for she wrote to her niece Fanny Knight, ‘Pictures of perfection as you know make me sick & wicked’ (Letter#155, 23-25 March 1817), although the letter was talking about Fanny’s admirer James Wildman (Nokes 1997).

Not unlike the way Jane silently paid homage to her Irish friend Tom Lefroy in her novels, the English authoress also paid tribute to her forgotten brother George. Nokes noticed that in Persuasion, the Musgroves had an ill-fated son named Richard (Volume I Chapter VI). ‘Poor Richard’ was a ‘troublesome’, ‘thick-headed’, ‘unfeeling’, ‘unprofitable’ and ‘hopeless’ son, hence ‘had been sent to sea, because he was stupid and unmanageable on shore; that he had been very little cared for at any time by his family, though quite as much as he deserved; seldom heard of, and scarcely at all regretted…’ To me, it is interesting that Richard was once a part of the crew on Captain Wentworth’s ship, and it was Wentworth who encouraged Richard to write to his family. The interesting part for me is that Wentworth was the embodiment of Tom Lefroy, and Richard was Jane’s way of paying homage to her brother. (In Becoming Jane, George Austen was there when Tom Lefroy interacted with Jane Austen…)

In 1827, Edward Knight (the third son of the Austens) gave his entire inheritance from his mother (£ 437) to George (Tomalin 2000). Much later on January 17th, 1838, George Austen died of dropsy. In contrast to the grave of his famous sister Jane, George’s grave remained an unmarked grave in the churchyard of All Saints Church, Monk Sherborne. His death certificate only had the note of ‘A Gentleman’, proposed by George Cullum, son of Francis Cullum, George Austen’s life-long caretaker (Nokes 1997).

In Becoming Jane, George Austen was played by Philip Culhane, a partially deaf Dublin actor, who taught Anne Hathaway a rudimentary sign language for the purpose of the movie (see celebritywonder.com). George Austen was even an important player in the movie. In Becoming Jane, he was obviously not mentally-handicapped, for he responded appropriately to what his sister Jane and his mother said to him. George also chased Henry when his younger brother played with his rather silly hat. George was present when Tom met Jane for the first time in Steventon. George was ‘listening’ to Jane’s story of Tom Lefroy’s boxing adventure in Laverton Fair when Jane found out that Lady Gresham was visiting her house. George was also the one whom Jane walked with after she accepted Mr. Wisley’s proposal. And when Jane was busy convincing George (and herself) that she would be happy with Wisley, George was the one who spotted Tom Lefroy standing a few feet behind them. With sign language, Brother George also innocently asked if Jane loved Tom, to which Jane negated furiously, only to immediately receive Tom’s hot kisses over her.

I understand that the inclusion of George Austen in Becoming Jane might be inaccurate, although it is very likely that George was still at Steventon in 1796/97. But I love that historical inaccuracy, for it gave the movie more depth of a brother-sister bond between George and Jane, something that the real Jane Austen could not enjoy during her lifetime. And perhaps, although the real Jane might stand up and say ‘Pardon me, that scene is not correct for what truly happened was this and that’, I am confident that she would also thank the filmmaker and wish that George indeed was so much involved in her life.


The True Story of George Austen was written by Icha for the Becoming Jane Fansite. It is adapted here with the author’s permission.

Although she admits that she did not know much about Jane Austen before watching the film, and although she understands that the movie is not 100% accurate, Icha was inspired by this film to learn more of the famous English author. She and her friends created the Becoming Jane Fansite to accommodate their research and interests about Jane Austen, Tom Lefroy and the film. She is now doing her PhD in Australia on marine mammal management. Reference: Faye, D. L. 1997, Jane Austen’s Letters, Oxford University Press, Oxford. Nokes, D. 1997, Jane Austen: A Life, Fourth Estate, London. Tomalin, C. 2000, Jane Austen: A Life, Penguin Books, London. Pic 1: George Austen (Philip Culhane) and Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) walking from the field, from annie- hathaway.com Pic 2: Mrs. Cassandra Austen, from University of Pennsylvania website Pic 3: Cover to Persuasion, Wordsworth Edition

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The Month of November in Regency Bath

November in Regency Bath

The month is November, and we’re back in the 1800s exploring Regency Bath.

The autumn has been mild, tentative and lingering, and then, suddenly, to borrow Coleridge’s phrase, “at one stride comes the dark”.

Samuel Taylor ColeridgeJane Austen was unlikely to have read “The Ancient Mariner” or even to have heard of its slightly disreputable author, though Coleridge made several visits to Bath around the time of Jane’s connection with the city. Posterity might consign these two great writers to the same library shelf because they coincide in history, but in life a huge gulf divided them. Barriers of gender, class and political affinity – not to mention the stifling social conventions – would have sent Miss Austen walking hurriedly past “STC”, if she had ever encountered his scruffy, lurching figure. What a pity – the debate they never had, between imagination and self-discipline, could have lasted well into the new nineteenth century. They would have had much to debate on the subject of fear and its control. Continue reading The Month of November in Regency Bath