Issue 43: Keeping Austen tradition alive at the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation

THE FOUNDATION CONTINUES THE BOOKPLATE TRADITIONS OF JANE AUSTEN’S FAMILY

In the continued expansion of Jane Austen Literacy Foundation’s programs and fundraising initiatives, I am delighted to announce that doctor, author and Jane Austen Literacy Foundation Ambassador, Julia Grantham, is our new Bookplate Program Manager. Julia has been working behind the scenes for the foundation for three years and I know will do a fantastic job. Like everyone at the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, Julia is a volunteer generously giving her time and skills to help improve literacy rates, in honour of Jane Austen.

I will hand over to Julia to tell you more about our bookplate program and share a conversation she had with my father, Jeremy Knight, Jane Austen’s fourth great nephew, about his involvement with the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation and his life-long fascination with bookplates. 

Caroline Jane Knight

One of my conversations with Jeremy Knight took place at The Swan at Alton, a place Jane Austen had known well. In her day it was a coaching inn and she used Collyer’s coach, which left from here, to travel to London. She also came to The Swan to collect her post and send her own correspondence to friends and family around the country. 

We met in the late afternoon on a scorching June day. Jeremy arrived carrying a pile of books and beaming with excitement.

“Look,” he said, “just look at what I have here!”

He laid on the table before me a hefty leather-bound tome with the Knight’s crest, the Greyfriar, deeply embossed in gold on the front cover. 

 Montagu Knight’s book.  Credit: Julia B. Grantham

Montagu Knight’s book. Credit: Julia B. Grantham

“Wait! Is it? Is it a copy of Montagu Knight’s book?” I couldn’t believe my eyes.

I had read about this book in Jeremy’s daughter, Caroline Jane Knight’s, memoir, Jane and Me: My Austen Heritage,and talked with her about it many a time, but I never expected to see it just like that, on a pub table - let alone be able to touch it!  Montagu had published Chawton Manor and Its Owners: A Family History in 1911, co-written with William Austen Leigh.

“But this is not all!” exclaimed Jeremy, his enthusiasm mounting. “Look what I’ve found inside.”

He flipped the book open and I saw some signatures and a couple of notes attached to the front endpaper. 

“Look here.” Jeremy drew my attention to the note at the bottom of the flyleaf. 

It read: 

Dear Mr Cazalet
Thank you very much for the bookplates which I am delighted with. I will show you my collection sometime and I think the Sherborne’s will specially interest you.
Yours sin, Florence Knight
May 25
 Montagu Knight’s book.  Credit: Julia B. Grantham.

Montagu Knight’s book. Credit: Julia B. Grantham.

I, of course, was full of questions, which Jeremy answered obligingly, even though he clearly wanted to talk about the MEANING of the note. 

“Who is Florence Knight?” I asked.

“Montagu’s wife.”

“When did he die?”

“He died in 1914. Just missed the Great War.”

“This note is dated 1925 - it means Montagu’s wife survived him,” I observed (how perceptive of me!) At this point, I decided not to proceed with questions about Edward Cazalet, whose signature, dated 1913, decorated the front endpaper, but made a mental note that the book was most likely presented to him by Montagu Knight himself, as he was still alive in 1913. 

“But you see what it means?” asked Jeremy impatiently. “They collected bookplates! Not just the books, but the bookplates.”

I saw and shared Jeremy’s enthusiasm – this discovery was both meaningful and symbolic.

Those who follow the work of the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, and especially those who support it with donations, will be very aware of the fact that bookplates play an important role in our story.

From the very beginning, our founder Caroline felt that she wanted to give something back to JALF supporters, something tangible and collectable. That is how she came up with the idea of a personalised bookplate for every JALF supporter. 

Caroline says:   

The library at Chawton House was the heart of our home… Wall to wall, floor-to-ceiling shelves housed the Knight family collection; an eclectic array of over 3000 books compiled over hundreds of years, many complete with a bookplate inside the front cover... I was fascinated by the choices of bookplate design – like the choices of books – the bookplates seemed to indicate elements of each Squire’s personality. On the shelves of our family library, sitting side-by-side, was evidence of the personalities and choices of generations. I knew the faces of each Squire from their portraits, but the bookplates brought them to life.
— Pride & Possibilities, Issue 14

On that afternoon, I could see in Caroline’s father’s eyes that the fascination with bookplates clearly ran in the family – the fact that Florence Knight collected them just confirmed it! I am quite certain that her husband, Montagu, the 13th squire of Chawton, added to the collection - but did he start it? Or have the bookplates always been a contributing factor in book choices for the extensive Knight library? Montagu himself had several most impressive bookplates and many books in the Knight collection proudly display them inside their front covers. 

As Jeremy and I looked at Florence Knight’s handwritten note carefully preserved inside the Knight family book written and published by her husband, many separate little pieces of information were arranging themselves in my mind into one unbroken story that had the past and the present intrinsically intertwined. 

 The Austen and Knight bookplates.  Credit: Julia B. Grantham.

The Austen and Knight bookplates. Credit: Julia B. Grantham.

We know of bookplates that belonged to Thomas Knight, George Austen, Edward Austen Knight, and Montagu Knight. We know of the Knight’s book collection, that was, of course, available for perusal by one Jane Austen, Edward’s sister, whose published work graced the Knights’ library. We know now, of their bookplates collection. We know of a little girl, the last of the Knights to grow up in Chawton House, who used to creep into the library (her grandparents’ sitting room) at night – a room filled with books from floor to ceiling - and, even before she could read, she loved to pick the heavy volumes off the shelves and look at all the different and elaborate bookplates, trying to imagine what kind of people her ancestors were. We know that many years later that girl has founded a charity in her Aunt Jane’s name, the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, and decided that the best Thank You for each donation to the Foundation, no matter the size, would be a bookplate. 

Isn’t it an impeccable story?

I turned to Jeremy:

 Jeremy Knight.  Credit: Julia B. Grantham.

Jeremy Knight. Credit: Julia B. Grantham.

“What do you think of the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation? Do people that come to the Great House or Jane Austen’s House Museum know about it?”

JK: I talk about it to all the people I meet. I give them a bookmark. If a couple years ago not many people had heard about it, now most people know about it. They take the bookmark, and say “Oh, I will certainly do something about that”. People definitely like Jane Austen’s bookplates, a lot of them do. I tell them not to put their own name on it, but for Christmas put 20 names of their friends and family and have their Christmas covered.

JBG: It is a great idea, especially because we are changing bookplates now and again and people can donate and receive new designs and start their own JALF bookplates collection!

JK: Yes, it would be good. I hope the Foundation continues to grow. You know, lots of people are making an awful lot of money out of Jane Austen, and if each gave a little bit, you could seriously help improving reading in underdeveloped countries and struggling communities. It is the way to give back, you agree?

Of course, I agreed.

This is why so many of us work for the Foundation as volunteers, dedicating our time and resources to the cause we believe in, knowing that 100% of donations are spent on literacy libraries for developing communities. This is why so many of you, our wonderful readers and supporters, donate generously and, through your messages, encourage us in our efforts on Jane’s behalf. 

What can we give you in return, apart from our unwavering gratitude?

BOOKPLATES, of course!

I am delighted to be the new Bookplate Program Manager for the Foundation and have some exciting plans for the new bookplates we will be launching soon.

This week, however, we are saying Good Bye to our current bookplate, created for JALF by artist Richard Jarvis. For more information on Richard and his Jane Austen inspired art, click here.

 
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This is your last chance to receive this unique image Inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion with your name in Jane’s hand AND TO ENTER A DRAW with two wonderful prizes:

First Prize - three limited edition prints by Richard Jarvis, including the one of Jane Austen’s Chawton Cottage

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Second Prize – one limited edition print of Jane Austen’s Chawton cottage by Richard Jarvis.

 
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We would like to thank Richard for his generosity in designing our Persuasion bookplate and donating the limited edition prints.

All you need to do is to donate ANY amount to JALF between 15 September and 22 September. All donations will be entered to the draw. If you donate several times during this week – your name will be entered as many times as you donate.

Best of luck and keep your eye out for the new bookplate announcement soon!

Julia B. Grantham

JALF Ambassador & Bookplate Program Manager

Author of Mr Darcy’s Guide to Pemberley and the Elizabeth Darcy Facebook Story

 
 Julia B Grantham

Julia B Grantham

 
 
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This post concludes our series of posts featuring Julia interviewing Jeremy Knight. Read Part One in Issue 23 and Part Two in Issue 32

Image credit: Julia B. Grantham