While Austen’s collateral descendants influenced her writing, she also galvanized generations of Austen family relatives who were themselves writers, publishers, and public figures. Jane’s closest sibling relationship was with her sister, Cassandra, who played an important role as an artist in Jane’s life. However, Henry may have been the sibling who had the greatest impact on Jane’s career during her lifetime, as well as after it.
Henry Austen frequently helped Jane in her dealings with publishers. He arranged for his ‘man of business’ to act as Jane’s agent. He was the author of the well-known biographical notice of Jane in 1818. When he expanded that memoir of his sister for republication in 1832, his name was advertised in the newspapers as the memoir’s author. By this time, Henry had become a clergyman. He regularly delivered sermons and was said to be quite eloquent as a speaker. He published a book and several pamphlets of sermons in the 1820s. His second wife, too, published religious works, under the name ‘Mrs. Henry Austen’.
Any argument that Jane’s family was against a woman signing her name on her books is weakened by Mrs. Henry Austen’s byline. It’s possible, of course, that Mrs. Henry Austen’s marital status was seen as protecting her reputation in a way that a single woman like Jane couldn’t benefit from. But it’s one more piece of evidence to weigh.
Cassandra painted portraits of her sister; the only ones affirmed with certainty to be Jane. She also drew imaginary portraits of famous historical figures for the pages of Jane’s juvenile work, ‘The History of England’. The sisters’ work together on this text deserves to be seen as an artistic collaboration, in the same way that we might now imagine the author and illustrator of a children’s book.
In addition, Cassandra wrote charades, as did many in the Austen family. A charade then meant something a little different from what we understand it to mean today. It was a kind of word puzzle or riddle. Rather than acting out the syllables, charade writers describe these syllables in verse. Readers would then attempt to guess the answer by figuring out each syllable described in the riddle.
This article comes directly from content in the video series The Life and Works of Jane Austen. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
The Large Austen Family
Within two generations, Austen’s large family had become exponentially larger. She was one of eight children. Four of her siblings had children themselves, for a total of 33 nieces and nephews. Then those nieces and nephews had 101 collateral descendants, who were Jane’s great nieces and nephews.
Within the space of several decades, we’re already talking about 100 people when we say, ‘the Austen family’. Those 100 collateral descendants were perfectly aware of their famous aunt. Some used her name to market their own writings or undergird their own public lives.
It wasn’t only the Austen men who advanced the reputation of their famous aunt or great aunt, and their own reputations, using her name. James Austen’s daughter, Anna Lefroy, whose full name was Jane Anna Elizabeth Austen Lefroy, published a short story, ‘Mary Hamilton’, in 1834. She didn’t sign her own name to the work but used the byline ‘a niece of the late Miss Austen’. Her story appeared in a literary magazine called The Literary Souvenir, and Lefroy, in writing it, took some inspiration from both Persuasion and Northanger Abbey.
Anna Lefroy is the same niece who wrote but never published an incomplete continuation of Jane Austen’s unfinished final work, Sanditon. Lefroy and her daughters published more than a dozen children’s stories, with religious and moral themes.
Female Authors in the Austen Family
Other branches of the Austen family nurtured female authors, too. A daughter of Jane’s naval brother, Francis Austen, began to publish novels as ‘Mrs. Hubback, late Miss Austen’. Her novels were advertised in the 1850s as ‘by the niece of the celebrated Miss Austen’. Hubback family descendants kept up that Jane Austen-inspired work, publishing the biographical book Jane Austen and Her Sailor Brothers in 1906.
Edward Knight’s branch of the Austen family had many writers. His daughter, the diarist Fanny Knight, became Lady Knatchbull. Her son, Lord Brabourne, the politician-baronet who first published Jane Austen’s letters, also published dozens of volumes of fairy tales. He had a Cambridge University-educated daughter who also published fairy tales and pursued social activism for the arts and women’s education.
The point of all of these details isn’t only to suggest that literary habits or talents might run in families—although sometimes they do. It’s rather to say that Jane Austen wrote in a family community of writers. It was also a community that she, with her posthumous literary success, served to enable and foster, even in the years after she died.
Common Questions about How Jane Austen enabled and Fostered Generations of Writers
Cassandra painted portraits of her sister, Jane Austen; the only ones affirmed with certainty to be Jane. She also drew imaginary portraits of famous historical figures for the pages of Jane’s juvenile work, ‘The History of England’.
In Austen’s time, a charade was a kind of word puzzle or riddle. Rather than acting out the syllables, charade writers described these syllables in verse. Readers then attempted to guess the answer by figuring out each syllable described in the riddle.
Anna Lefroy was James Austen’s daughter. Her full name was Jane Anna Elizabeth Austen Lefroy. She published a short story, ‘Mary Hamilton’, in 1834. She didn’t sign her own name to the work but used the byline ‘a niece of the late Miss Austen’. Lefroy, in writing the story, took some inspiration from both Persuasion and Northanger Abbey.