Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Gift from Author
Ever wonder what modern-day descendants of Jane Austen’s family think of her? What are their opinions on her work and celebrated fame? How does it feel to be related to one of the world’s most celebrated writers? How has it impacted or influenced their lives? If your answers are yes, here is a book for you.
Jane Austen’s fifth great-niece, Caroline Jane Knight, descendant of Jane’s brother Edward (who is responsible for bringing Jane to Chawton Cottage) candidly and courageously tells the story of her life in her memoir Jane and Me: My Austen Heritage. She shares in vivid detail the pleasures and delights of growing up in the ancestral home of Chawton House, an estate that has been in the Knight family for 400 years. But she also shares the heartbreaking account of how her family had to leave Chawton just after she turned seventeen and the uncertain and unexpected direction her life took after facing such an upsetting upheaval. This memoir tells of Caroline Knight’s journey – her memories, her successes, her challenges, and her discoveries.
For anyone who enjoys English estates, history, family legacy this is a fascinating and informative read. But for a Janeite who is always thirsty for more information on their favorite author’s life Jane and Me is a rare and special treasure. I loved how this memoir covered both the past history of the Knight and Austen families and the more recent history of the last inhabitants of Chawton House. Learning about Sir Richard and the decreed ban on Christmas celebrations and how Elizabeth Martin Knight was the only female squire of Chawton House only added to the interesting history of Jane Austen’s family. Like Caroline Knight, I love wondering what were Jane Austen thoughts and opinions on these relations. I also appreciated the focus on Jane Austen’s brother, Edward, and Caroline Knight’s grandfather, Edward Knight III “Bapops” and their roles as squires of the estate. It’s surprising how inheriting an estate can come with such burdens and challenges. Much more than I realized.
What struck me about Caroline Knight’s story was how her life shares parallels with Jane Austen’s life. Like the back cover blurb states: “Caroline Jane Knight shares more than Jane Austen’s name and DNA.” Both grew up in a happy home surrounded by contentment and cherished memories, and both felt intense devastation when forced to leave their beloved homes. Like Jane Austen during her years in Bath and Southampton, Caroline Knight faced some years of frequent shifts and changes in career and living situations. And similar to Jane Austen, Caroline Knight eventually found professional success and a place where she could feel settled and at peace. It truly is remarkable how both traversed a somewhat similar path even though two hundred years separate them.
Included in this intimate and revealing autobiography are thirty-six black and white photos of Chawton House, Caroline Knight, and her family. I absolutely loved the visuals and appreciated how they enhanced the reading experience by bringing parts of the story to life. While I’ve walked up to the gate at Chawton House, I’ve never been inside. So these pictures where definitely the next best thing to seeing it in person. I also appreciated the family timelines outlined in the back of the book.
Jane and Me: My Austen Heritage is an incredible inspiring and informative autobiography. I loved every minute of reading it and treasure all the new insight I’ve gained into Jane Austen’s and Caroline Knight’s families and histories. I greatly admire Caroline Jane Knight for bravely sharing her story with the world and for finding a brilliant way to honor her Great Aunt Jane through her charity, the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation*. Which funds projects to support literacy across the world. I love the idea of this important initiative, think it is a cause Jane Austen would have whole-heartedly supported, and look forward to witnessing all the wonderful work that will be accomplished through this foundation.
* 15% of the profits from the sale of this book are donated to the foundation. To learn more, visit HERE.