This week The Telegraph newspaper published an online article about a house in Sherborne St John near Basingstoke in Hampshire called The Vyne. The reason it caught the eye of the Jane Austen News is because it has been suggested that Jane Austen may have based her Mansfield Park heroine Fanny Price on Caroline Wiggett, who went to live at The Vyne in 1803 aged three, having been plucked from a pool of poor distant relations and adopted by the childless couple who lived there, William John Chute and his wife Eliza.
It is thought that Jane may have come into contact with the Chutes as her brother James Austen was appointed Rector of Sherborne St.John by William Chute, and so he moved in the same social circles as the Chutes and attend parties thrown at The Vyne. Certainly, Jane would at least have known about the family and the case of Caroline Wiggett’s adoption.
However, having said that, and just to play devil’s advocate, rich relations adopting a child from poor relations was by no means a rare occurrence which Jane could only have thought of by hearing of Caroline Wiggett. For one thing, another of her brothers, Edward Austen, was adopted by rich relations and went on to become a very wealthy landowner.
It’s an interesting house (following one of his regular visits there, The Vyne is also believed to have inspired Horace Walpole to build his 18th-century gothic castle in Twickenham, Strawberry Hill) and the Caroline Wiggett-Fanny Price connection is a fun speculation to explore at any rate.