Edward Knight's Family

Jane Austen and Three Generations

by her great-great-niece Marcia Alice Rice aged 84, March 1953.

No doubt my generation is the last to call Jane Austen 'Aunt Jane' quite naturally; and, for all I know, to some of my cousins she may have become just the celebrated novelist, 'Miss Austen.'

But my father and his two maiden sisters were steeped in her works, and read them with a pride in their own 'Aunt Jane.' My father also had a great interest in people and in families, and though he never met Jane's sister and brothers who outlived her, he knew all there was to know about them from her nephew, J.E. Austen-Leigh's Memoir – and certainly must have become familiar with many facts concerning them through talks with his mother and his 'Aunt Knatchbull', of whom he was very fond. At any rate, he talked to me of them with interest, as his relations of a past generation – and it was always 'Aunt Cassandra' and 'Aunt Jane.'

I was introduced to Aunt Jane's books by my father, who read Pride and Prejudice to me when I was in bed with measles, aged fourteen. How that hour of reading brightened the days! He read all Aunt Jane's books to his family over and over again, and I myself went steadily through them all after my introduction to Pride and Prejudice.

I suppose my father and aunts were the first 'Janeites', I can't answer for their brothers and sisters! But they were 'Janeites' in their own way – they knew her books almost by heart and the characters were as real to them as if they actually existed. They discussed them, and chose their favourite book – and then changed their minds. They were no literary critics, it may even be that they were a little jealous of Miss Austen's growing fame (this applied rather to my Aunt Caroline than the others). They all considered her their exclusive family possession, a very rare and precious one.

But my aunt went further, 'Grandmama read Aunt Jane as no one else could.' This was because she was her niece and could enter into the whole atmosphere of the wit and setting of the books. The next generation followed, but there was a difference. When my generation came along we were allowed a share in the family relationship, but were not expected, indeed hardly permitted, to appreciate our great-great-aunt's writing as those nearer her could. In fact, if we were 'Janeites', it must be in the modern fashion. All the same, my Aunt Caroline was both angry and indignant when one day, happening to be in a literary mood, I chanced to speak of 'Miss Austen' instead of 'Aunt Jane'!

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