I have created this blog to share new research and supplemental information related to my book, Jane Austen, Edward Knight, & Chawton: Commerce & Community, published by Woodpigeon Publishing. All text is © Linda Slothouber, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Slothouber and chawtoncommerceandcommunity@blogspot.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Please feel free to contact me at lindaslothouber@gmail.com.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Edward Knight, His Siblings, and Money (more about my Jane Austen's Regency World article)

I'm pleased to have been asked to contribute the JASNA column in the latest issue of Jane Austen's Regency World magazine, and have just received my copy.  I chose to write about Edward Knight's relationship with his Austen siblings, based on information in his early bank records.  I show that Edward shared his good fortune with his brothers early on and gave a helping hand to needy family members throughout his life.  There are hints that his siblings may have returned the favor, perhaps loaning him money or participating in joint property investments with him. I am not going to repeat the whole article here, but I do have some additional information that may be of interest.

Edward's bank records, spread across a number of ledgers kept by the clerks of Goslings Bank (and now kept in the archives of Barclays Group) are frustratingly vague.  When Edward Knight wrote a check to someone, a clerk recorded the name of the recipient (often just the title and surname, and not always spelled correctly), the date, and the amount paid.  There's no indication, except in very rare cases, of the purpose of the payment, and no address for the recipient.  A good deal of detective work is therefore required to make sense of the ledgers.  I can't claim to have studied them exhaustively, but the observations I have been able to make come from comparing them to other sources, such as a lawyer's bill, a notebook in which Edward recorded annuities he set up for his brother, a random note about stock sales that exists in the Knight Archive, and Jane Austen's own letters.

Edward had financial dealings with his clerical brother, James, his banker brother, Henry, and his two naval brothers, Frank and Charles.   What I most hoped to find, of course, was more about Jane Austen, perhaps some steps taken by Edward to secure her financial well-being, or gifts of money.  We know from her letters that Jane did receive at least one gift in cash from Edward, and I suspect there were more that passed from hand to hand rather than going through the bank.  One document I found in the Knight Archive presented a tantalizing suggestion of a much more significant amount of money in Jane's name, but ultimately, sadly, I had to dismiss it.  After studying Edward Knight for quite some time, my conclusion is that while he was not ungenerous by nature, he was somewhat unimaginative, unable perhaps to think or act beyond the conventions of his time, which dictated that single women were to be maintained as dependents of their male kin, given what they needed when they needed it, but not granted independence.  Her famous line, "till I have a travelling-purse of my own, I must submit...," written in a letter to her sister, expresses both her acknowledgment of the way the world worked, and her discontent with its limitations.

Edward's sister-in-law Louisa and his children's nurse Susannah Sackree each had some money, which Edward invested for them; his bank ledgers show accruals of interest from their sub-accounts and regular payments to each of them.  When Jane earned some money from the sale of her novels, she did not rely on Edward to set up a similar arrangement for her.  She opened her own account, in her own name, at Hoare's Bank, where her parents had maintained their accounts.  (She opened her account in 1816, following the collapse of Henry's bank, Austen, Maunde, & Tilson.)

Excerpt of an 1817 ledger documenting Edward Knight's bank account activity.  Near the top is a transaction on behalf of Susannah Sackree, the nurse at Godmersham, while at the bottom is payment of 25 pounds to "J. Austen," most likely James.  (Courtesy of Barclays Group Archives)
Jane Austen's Regency World magazine is on sale now.  In addition to my article, the current issue contains an article about Barbara Pym (one of my favorite modern novelists), an exploration of the conservation techniques used at Chawton House Library, and other intriguing features. 

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