I became an avid reader over Christmas, due to my new Kindle e-reader (a brilliant gift). This has enabled me to re-read Jane Austen's last novel 'Persuasion' at lightning speed, following a fascinating BBC programme over Christmas (Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait) on the author's 'portrait' and family. It inspired this bit of amateur research yesterday:
I researched her favourite brother, Rev Henry Austen, who had encouraged her to publish her books. He lived for a time in Chelsea, London, where Jane stayed with him, while he was a successful banker. It is possible that when staying with Henry (while he was ill) that she had the portrait drawn by Eliza Chute. The portrait on vellum shows an intellectual, tall woman with features of sophistication. Subsequently, in 1815, Henry was declared bankrupt and in 1817, Jane passed away (possibly dying of cancer) in Winchester. Henry stayed with and lovingly supported his dying sister. He arranged her burial in Winchester Cathedral and James Austen, their brother, wrote the inscription.
Henry, while still carrying heavy debts became ordained as a Calvinist clergyman. His debts were slightly lightened when he and Cassandra sold the copyright of Jane's novels for £250 (Henry is named in Jane's will). Basically Jane's labours saved her siblings. Around 1822, he was appointed to a pastoral role in Farnham Parish in West Surrey, and also as Perpetual Curate at Bentley Hampshire, close to his mother and sister who continued to live in the cottage in Chawton, Hampshire. He may have lived with them with his second wife. It is greatly to Henry Austen's credit that he published 'Persuasion' after Jane died with a fine biographical note which describes her in detail, saying that Jane had been a 'devout Christian'.
Rev Henry Austen after sojourns in France, died in his seventies (1850) and was buried in a graveyard on the north side of Tunbridge Wells. We Austen admirers (I won't dare to call myself a "Janeite") owe him a great deal.
While re-reading 'Persuasion' - which is my favourite Austen novel - I noted that 'Uppercross', which is (officially) three miles from Anne Elliot's ancestral home, 'Kellynch Hall' in the County of Somerset, is said to be seventeen miles from Lyme Regis. We are told that residents at Uppercross ordered their 'chaises' from Crewkerne, which puts its location to the east of Illminster - around the position of picturesque Hinton St George.
There are three local stately homes, within a very few miles: Montacute House, which is thirty miles from Lyme Regis, 'Barrington Court' which is 20 miles from Lyme and 'Dillington House'. Montacute House is really too far from Lyme (30 miles) to be 'Kellynch Hall'. Dillington House, now used as an adult education centre.
The novel says that the Uppercross and Kellynch Hall residents attended the same church and that this church was located in Uppercross under the oversight of Dr Shirley. If Uppercross was Hinton St George, then ladies from Barrington (Kellynch) spent an hour in a coach on Sunday mornings getting to church there (5 miles), passing through Shepton Beauchamp, their local parish. Why? Was this because the related families of the Musgroves and Elliots would meet up more regularly if the Elliots attended Uppercross Church and could spend Sunday afternoons together?
We are told in the novel that aged Dr Shirley needed another curate, which tiny Barrington Church would not. We are also told that Kellynch Church (not Uppercross Church) would have been where Anne would have married Mr Elliot, if she has chosen to and where she would have married Wentworth. Also Kellynch Lodge is '50 miles from Bath' which is almost the exact distance from Barrington, to Bath. It is clear from the text that Anne's ancestral home ranks first in the country. Barrington Court is certainly the largest and more imposing property (within the right distance from Lyme).
On further inspection, Barrington Court, now owned by the National Trust, was inherited and then sold by one, Sir Edward Austen, Baronet of Kent, in the 1760s. Just below this information in the 'Baronetage' under 'the Austens' and inter-marriages, it also mentions 'Sir Francis Dashwood' - the same name as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood in "Sense and Sensibility".
This line of Austen Baronets came from Tenterden, Kent. George Austen, Jane's father came from Kentish cloth merchants, who lived near Goudhurst and Cranbrook which are close to Tenterden. The (Jane) Austen family still own the same fine ancestral Wealden houses. I cannot prove that these two 'well-to-do' Wealden Austen families were directly related to each other but, it is surely highly likely that they were one say before 1600. Geneologists or 'Janeites' are invited to comment?
Did Jane's father, Rev George Austen have the impression that he issued from a cadet branch of the Baronet Austens who once owned Barrington Court which therefore inspired 'Kellynch' in his daughter's mind? Did he know the two Kent families were really one family? Or did Jane Austen simply utilise material relating to aristocrats with the same surname for her novels?
The list of High Sheriffs of Somerset around 1800 only includes one Baronet, Sir John Hawkins, whose seat was Kelston, near Bath where Jane Austen lived for a time. She may have seen him in Bath's high society. In her mind, did this creatively mingle Barrington with Somerset baronets?
The ancient Strode family lived at Barrington Court, at this time. They were cultured, went on the Grand Tour, had themselves painted by Hogarth drinking fashionable tea in satin, reading books, surrounded by classy spaniels and oil paintings (e.g. of classical Rome).
We are told that the daughter of the Baronet of Kellynch Hall (Anne Elliot, in Persuasion) has 'an elegant mind'. She is extremely well read (e.g. had access to a well-stocked library at Kellynch). She has reads Byron and Scott. She loves moral essays and good prose works. She reads and recommends improving sermons. She is a linguist and can translate Italian arias sung into English and therefore, implicitly, she must also speak French. She inwardly bemoans her own hidden lack of Christian patience and fortitude. Presumably, she also reads the Bible and Book of Common Prayer daily. She is highly musical. She can play the keyboard 'automatically' (by ear) for hours, presumably having learnt country dances by heart.
At the end of 'Persuasion', Anne does not express any regret to fiance Captain Wentworth, for ever having obeyed Lady Russell's advice, superficial and wrong, as it was. Like Ruth, in the Old Testament, she is commended and blessed for obeying her female mentor (like Naomi). The Bible does certainly teach that older women have a clear role in guiding young women. So Anne Elliot is an example, we are finally told by Austen, of the perfect (Christian) character combination of 'fortitude and gentleness'. These are 'fruits' of the Holy Spirit. The pain of Anne Elliott is that she has no career or identity, except from that bestowed by being related to vain people to whom she is, in Austen's language 'in every way, superior'.
The road from Lyme to Bath passes close to Barrington Court. It is quite possible that Jane Austen could have visited this fine Tudor house after visiting Lyme having read about the house in 'The Baronetage' (which is mentioned in Chapter One of Persuasion) even with a view to using it, as a setting for one of her novels.
I would be interested in any other theories about "the identity of Kellynch"?