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"This is a book that keeps on giving and one which I feel Jane Austen herself would have dearly loved to read." Maggie Lane, Jane Austen Society Newsletter (Oct 2012)
"May Lou and Cass, what a marvellous book. It's a wonderful addition to Jane Austen studies. I knew nothing of any of this and I am really grateful for being enlightened." - Patricia Craig
"An intriguing story, invitingly told." - Hermione Lee
Marianne, Louisa and Cassandra Knight – May, Lou and Cass – were Jane Austen’s nieces. She knew the girls well, reading and sewing with them as they grew up. Often the subjects of her witty letters, they were still young girls when Jane died in 1817.
Yet, had she lived, she would have seen them live out the plots of her famous novels. Handsome noblemen, dashing officers and penurious clergymen sought her nieces’ hands; just like Austen’s cherished heroines, they knew well the pains of blighted love and the joy of patience rewarded and they also knew the sorrow of losing their childhood home. Yet even Jane Austen could not have imagined that her genteel nieces would find themselves in Ireland, a land riven with famine and land wars. How did these three young gentlewomen come to live so far from Jane Austen’s ordered, mannered Regency England?
Read Sophia's blog at www.sophiahillan.com
The book which I didn't know I REALLY wanted to read.
This review is from: May, Lou and Cass: Jane Austen's Nieces in Ireland (Hardcover)
No individual life exists in a vacuum. Before, during and after, it is surrounded by a network of people and events that put that life into context, and give it additional meaning, definition and nuance. That's the conclusion I came to after reading this great book. I'd heard about it but, even as a serious fan of Jane Austen and the Regency period, the subject matter didn't pull me enough to plan on buying it. For me, it was all about Austen - why would I want to read about what three of her many nieces got up to after she died? But when given the book as a birthday gift, I gave it a go, and devoured it in less than 48 hours. After reading about the hopes and dreams, chances and disappointment, events and actions, and sorrows and joy that marked the lives of these three kinswomen of hers, I had a much more holistic understanding of - and appreciation for - the woman that Jane Austen was in HER time. She may die at the end of (if I recall correctly) the very first chapter, but her ghost and spirit linger on as her nieces continue their lives, especially since the way that these lives develop reflect - almost spookily, at times - the situations of some of the most iconic characters in Austen's books. Throughout the book I also had the great pleasure now and then of reading things I knew about Austen from a very different viewpoint. I had a number of "ka-CHING" moments, when pennies dropped and I suddenly could put anecdotes or events I had read about in her letters into a much wider and better context. I may not have particularly 'wanted' to read this book, but now I'm SO glad I did. Highly recommended.
Jane Austen's nieces in Ireland
This review is from: May, Lou and Cass: Jane Austen's Nieces in Ireland (Hardcover)One of Jane Austen's brothers - Edward - was adopted by the wealthy Mr and Mrs Knight and eventually changed his surname to Knight after he inherited their property. He had a large family, including the three daughters who feature in this fascinating book. Marianne (May), Louisa (Lou) and Cassandra (Cass) were children when Jane Austen herself died but all remembered her. Their elder sisters, Fanny and Elizabeth, were privileged to hear their aunt reading her work and May - excluded from the readings - remembered hearing screams of laughter from her sisters when they were listening to their aunt reading.May never married and Lou and Cass married the same man - Lord George Hill - whose home was in Ireland. All three died, and were buried in Ireland. What struck me most about this book was the portrait it painted of the lives of woman throughout the nineteenth century. Their homes and their incomes were totally dependent on the whims of their male relatives - be they husbands, brothers or fathers. Edward Austen Knight for example left his two aunts and his mother - Jane Austen, her sister Cassandra and their mother - after the death of their father to wander between friends and relatives without a settled home. Edward could easily have provided them with a home but for some reason he did not choose to until he finally allowed them to live in Chawton Cottage.Unmarried daughters were expected to stay at home and look after the family if their mother died. This happened to May and to her elder sister, Fanny, though Fanny herself did eventually marry and have her own family. For many years May ran her father's household at Godmersham Park in Kent. When he die, her own brother decided to sell the estate and May took refuge with one of her brothers who was rector of Chawton. When he died she took refuge with her sister, Lou, in Ireland as no one thought to provide for her even though she had spent all her life looking after everyone else.Anyone who feels having read Jane Austen's novels that their emphasis on marriage as being the only possible career for girls of little fortune would do well to read this book as it shows how important marriage was to girls of gentle birth without their own income. This book makes many references to Jane Austen's novels showing that real life imitated art to a remarkable extent however unrealistic the novels might seem to modern readers. I found the many extracts from family letters really brought Jane Austen's family to life. What struck me most strongly was the way the women simply accepted their place in life and their duty to look after everyone without any rancour or ill feeling.Life in Ireland in the latter part of the nineteenth century is well described and highlights the difficulties even responsible landlords faced when trying to modernise their tenants' ways of farming. Lord George Hill - husband first to Cass and after her death to Louisa - did his best to run his estate fairly and ensured by spending his own money that his tenants were fed during Ireland's many famines. But Ireland was and is a land of contradictions and complexities and his efforts were not always appreciated for a variety of reasons. May, Lou and Cass all played their part by looking after the sick and indigent even though they themselves had very little of their own money.This is a well written book with detailed family trees on both endpapers. There is a useful timeline and notes on the text as well as a bibliography and index and several colour and black and white illustrations. I was fortunat enough to receive a free copy of this book but I would say it is a must not just for Jane Austen fans but also for people interested in nineteenth century social history in England and Ireland.