Jane Austen’s Family

Jane Austen’s Family

I recently finished watching the popular Netflix series The Crown, which is based on Queen Elizabeth’s life. If you have seen the series, you will recall that the Queen had two disabled cousins who were sent to live in a group home and were largely forgotten. By today’s standards, it’s unusual to send your children away to be raised by other families, but this was fairly common in the past.

Like the queen, Jane Austen had two brothers who didn’t have typical relationships with the Austen family, but their reasons for this were very different. One was the third eldest child, Edward.

Jane’s father earned his living as a clergyman and had been given his living by a wealthy relative, Thomas Knight. When Mr. Knight married Catherine Knatchbull, they dropped by the Austen’s home where the couple met an eleven-year-old Edward.

 

He was a sweet, charming boy, and Catherine asked if the child could accompany her and her new husband on the remainder of their honeymoon. Impressed by the child during this trip, the couple invited him on more of their family holidays. After a few years when the couple remained childless, they asked to adopt the boy. The Austens agreed, and upon Mr. Knight’s death, Edward Austen Knight inherited a sizable fortune. It was on one of Edward’s estates that Jane lived her final years.

Jane’s second eldest brother, George, was not as fortunate. George was disabled, had learning disabilities and epilepsy, and may have been deaf. Although the Austens provided financial support and visited him, he was sent away to be raised by another family better able to care for him. George was never mentioned in letters. In fact, in the first biography on Jane Austen, he was never acknowledged.

Sometimes, I think about writing a novel where Jane Austen’s characters live out some of the events of Jane’s life. Can you imagine Lady Catherine going to Charlotte Lucas Collins and asking to adopt her son? Or Elizabeth Bennet anonymously publishing novels that go on to become widely popular?

I see a little of this happening in Jane’s own novels. It is said that she based Fitzwilliam Darcy on her own personality and Elizabeth Bennet’s personality on Thomas Lefroy. But that isn’t the only influence her real life had on her fiction. Lefroy may have been Austen’s first love, but any romance they might have had was dashed because he was not allowed to marry below his social standing. When things started to heat up between Austen and Lefroy, Lefroy’s relatives saw to it he was taken far away from her.  Doesn’t that sound a little like the set up of Bingley’s romance with Miss Bennet?

 

 

Wouldn’t it be interesting to put Darcy and Elizabeth in a situation like that or switch the two main characters’ personalities? Or what if we had Mary sent away to live with another family because she was born with a disability? There are so many options, and the lovely thing about fiction is that everyone could still get a happy ending. What do you think would be a fun novel twist that is based on Jane Austen’s actual life?

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12 COMMENTS
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darcybennett
darcybennett
January 28, 2021 5:46 PM

I like all of these possibilities although my favorite would be to swap their personalities.

carylkane
carylkane
January 26, 2021 8:54 PM

Fabulous post, Cinnamon!

Gianna Thomas
AuAu
January 26, 2021 5:08 PM

Interesting post, Cinnamon. I’ve actually considered one of the possibilities you mentioned. As to LeFroy, if I remember correctly, he was in a situation where eleven? siblings were relying on him staying in his wealthy uncle’s graces and receiving an education that would allow him to help them in the future. One brother had already been disinherited by said uncle for secretly marrying a woman his uncle didn’t approve of. Tom Lefroy went on to become a famous judge and lived to age 93. But when Austen died, he traveled from Ireland to England to pay his respects to the author. That makes me suspect that he had been in love with her and not just as a friend. Perhaps that situation was why Austen had Darcy considering the Bennets as beneath him.

As to handicaps, I have read one P&P where Darcy is blind and another where he is dealing with autism. Adding these complications do make for more interesting reading. I look forward to seeing how you use those in your future writings. 🙂

Elaine Jeremiah
January 26, 2021 1:50 PM

Great post! I think maybe a storyline where Jane Austen does get to marry the love of her life would be interesting to read. Though perhaps a little obvious. Or, and this would be so poignant, an alternate reality/story where she didn’t die so young. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Regina Jeffers
Admin
January 26, 2021 7:32 AM

Most authors put a bit of their own lives into that of their characters. Perhaps, it is something as simple as preferring two sugars to one in his/her tea, but it is there—a footprint of the author’s life. In several of my Regency stories and one contemporary tale, the readers meet child-like adults with Down’s syndrome, although, except in the contemporary tale, such was not the name used, for it was Dr John Langdon Down who first identified the group of characteristics in 1866. My best friend since elementary had a younger sister with Down’s. I grew up with Vickie. I know how she would respond to each situation. The scenes I included were ones I had witnessed prior.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
January 26, 2021 7:22 AM

I think like you said maybe having a character with a disability would be interesting. There are lots of possibilities as you said!

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