What the Austen? Podcast

Episode 64: My Jane Austen Heritage with Caroline Knight, Jane Austen's Great niece

May 19, 2024 Caroline Jane Knight, Jane Austen's 5th great niece Episode 64
Episode 64: My Jane Austen Heritage with Caroline Knight, Jane Austen's Great niece
What the Austen? Podcast
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What the Austen? Podcast
Episode 64: My Jane Austen Heritage with Caroline Knight, Jane Austen's Great niece
May 19, 2024 Episode 64
Caroline Jane Knight, Jane Austen's 5th great niece

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Imagine growing up in a home where every corner whispers stories of Jane Austen. In this episode, I will be chatting with Caroline Jane Knight, Jane Austen’s 5th great-niece and founder of the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation.

Caroline shares her experience growing up in, and eventually leaving, Chawton House, the Knight family home. Through childhood anecdotes, she paints a vivid picture of living amid literary heritage, balancing tradition with the realities of daily life. Caroline's story transcends the past. Once a corporate powerhouse, she now champions the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, inspired by her Austen connection. 

The Jane Austen Literacy Foundation stands as a testament to her and the incredible volunteers' dedication. Caroline discusses the Foundation's initiatives, from global writing competitions to literacy events, fostering a passionate volunteer network to support literacy projects in developing communities.

As Caroline reflects on Austen’s writing and her own experiences, we gain insights that are both deeply personal and universally resonant, finding a way back to your roots.  

Join us for an episode that honours Jane Austen's enduring spirit through none other than her own great-niece.
 
Host a Jane Austen Tea for Literacy
 
Sanditon Celebration Event:
BOOK HERE

Where can you find the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation?
Website
Instagram: @janeaustenliteracyfoundation
Facebook
Youtube

My article for the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation: ISSUE 97: A WISE WOMAN FIT FOR REGENCY ENGLAND


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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

Support the Show.

Where can you find your host (Izzy)?
Website: www.whattheausten.com
Podcast Instagram: @whattheausten
Personal Instagram: @izzy_meakin
Youtube: What the Austen? Podcast

Show Notes Transcript

Send us a Text Message.

Imagine growing up in a home where every corner whispers stories of Jane Austen. In this episode, I will be chatting with Caroline Jane Knight, Jane Austen’s 5th great-niece and founder of the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation.

Caroline shares her experience growing up in, and eventually leaving, Chawton House, the Knight family home. Through childhood anecdotes, she paints a vivid picture of living amid literary heritage, balancing tradition with the realities of daily life. Caroline's story transcends the past. Once a corporate powerhouse, she now champions the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, inspired by her Austen connection. 

The Jane Austen Literacy Foundation stands as a testament to her and the incredible volunteers' dedication. Caroline discusses the Foundation's initiatives, from global writing competitions to literacy events, fostering a passionate volunteer network to support literacy projects in developing communities.

As Caroline reflects on Austen’s writing and her own experiences, we gain insights that are both deeply personal and universally resonant, finding a way back to your roots.  

Join us for an episode that honours Jane Austen's enduring spirit through none other than her own great-niece.
 
Host a Jane Austen Tea for Literacy
 
Sanditon Celebration Event:
BOOK HERE

Where can you find the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation?
Website
Instagram: @janeaustenliteracyfoundation
Facebook
Youtube

My article for the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation: ISSUE 97: A WISE WOMAN FIT FOR REGENCY ENGLAND


PURE pet food
50% off your box! Love this food for Hoggy it's easy to store and has all the nutrients he needs!

Buzzsprout - Let's get your podcast launched!
Start for FREE

Rover Pet Care
Rover connects pet owners with a nationwide network of pet lovers who can't wait to watch their pet.

Plum
Invest and save easily with plum!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

Support the Show.

Where can you find your host (Izzy)?
Website: www.whattheausten.com
Podcast Instagram: @whattheausten
Personal Instagram: @izzy_meakin
Youtube: What the Austen? Podcast

Izzy Meakin:

so, hi, caroline, it's so fantastic to have you on the podcast with me. It's an absolute pleasure. Thank you for inviting me, absolutely. So I am going to ask you the question that I ask all my guests. I know it might sound slightly redundant coming to you, but what got you into Jane Austen originally?

Caroline Jane Knight:

Well, my first. I mean I don't sort of have a first memory of Jane, as it were, because I came home from the hospital as a baby in my parents' arms, to Chawton House, so and obviously that's. You know, chawton House was owned by Jane's brother and she spent the last eight years of her life living in a cottage, you know which was part of her brother's estate at that time Chawton Cottage, living in a cottage you know which was part of her brother's estate at that time, chawton Cottage. So, and Chawton House, I mean obviously Jane Austen, I mean now she's an absolute megastar, isn't she Absolute megastar? But even in the 70s and 80s, when I was growing up at Chawton House, I mean you know that was pre Colin Firth and, believe me, the world of Jane Austen was different before that 95 production and the Sense and Sensibility. Obviously that happened that same year, but Jane Austen was, of course. I mean Jane Austen has been famous and hugely so and hugely loved for four centuries. So even when I was a child, there were, you know, thousands of visitors every year coming to Chawton. Our house was open during the summer because we welcomed people in, because granny actually ran a tea room from the great Hall at the front of Chorton House, which I earned my pocket money in. But even as the youngest child, I can remember, you know the names Lizzie and Darcy. I remember that a lot of the visitors that came in, of course, that's, you know, those were the names I was hearing and I remember and I honestly I must have been, I'm honestly going to say, four or five years old, I think this memory is.

Caroline Jane Knight:

I remember that I used to proudly say, yes, Jane Austen was a pioneer, and I was so proud and I think the reason it really sticks in my mind is because I actually, at that age, had no idea what a pioneer was. I actually didn't know what I was saying and I'd heard someone else say it do you know what I mean? And it sounded so grand and I'd sort of you know, I think I'd heard the word obviously used in the context of grand, you know, and hugely accomplished people. You know, people who had invented things and done amazing things. I mean, pioneer is a word that's used with you know notable people, isn't it? So I sort of of I remember that I'd latched onto that word and, as I said, with any Jane Austen fans, tourists, whatever that I'd meet um, as I said, that would either be in the tea room or we also hosted every summer, so every July, the Jane Austen Society of the UK.

Caroline Jane Knight:

Their annual AGM was at Chorton House every year. So for for a day in July we'd have five or six hundred people there that had come from America and all over the world to come to this AGM. And, as I said, all I remember is absolutely you know Jane Austen was a pioneer and just how proud I was, but hoped that no one would ask me any more questions because I didn't really know what I was saying.

Izzy Meakin:

Yeah, I suppose that's the thing you would be considered like, the natural kind of like historian on Jane Austen just because you're related to her. So I would also have that fear.

Caroline Jane Knight:

I'd be like please don't ask me questions, and that's something that, to be honest, has always been a challenge, because I mean, of course I can, I can hold my own in Jane Austen. If you know what I mean, I can talk about Jane Austen very, you know. Of course I know Jane, I have my version of Jane, but of course I know a lot of, you know a lot about her and her work, but I'm not an academic. I haven't, you know, I haven't studied Jane in the way that an academic would. And yet people absolutely would have the assumption that, as her family, particularly having grown up in Chorton, that we would actually be at the top of that you know knowledge tree, as it were. And that's not true.

Caroline Jane Knight:

Or even know all the secrets, Exactly, exactly, and oh my goodness. So if only we did have the missing secret diary, you know, then that would be.

Izzy Meakin:

I mean what?

Caroline Jane Knight:

a fly that would be, you know, but unfortunately, we don't.

Izzy Meakin:

Yeah, no, no, absolutely, and I love that. And something that really stood out in your book to me was the significance of family. Um, I had no idea how many members of your family were living in Chawson at the same time as you were, and obviously with your gran, and I love the stories that you um wrote about her and working in the tea room, which I actually found so relatable because my first job was actually in the estate across the road, in the tea room, so it was just nice to like. You know, I was like I can, I was able to imagine it in such a great way, um, but it'd be amazing to tell the listeners kind of what it was like living there with all your family members living there as well, and how that layout worked um yeah so we had, I mean, chawton house, a big house and of course originally was designed to have um, I mean, it was actually built back in 1585.

Caroline Jane Knight:

The build started by john knight and, of course, my name's knight. So I grew up believing that John Knight was my 15th great-grandfather and in actual fact that's not true. And it's not true because in the 16 generations of squires there have been, and the house has never been sold, it's been passed down through generation to generation and my uncle, richard, still owns the freehold today. But in truth, of those 16 steps, on eight occasions the squire hasn't had any children because, of course there wasn't the fertility treatment. You know there wasn't. So there was actually been. As I said, 50 percent of the time there actually hasn't been an heir. So in that circumstance, what happened was was that somebody was chosen as the heir and it might be usually male, obviously a male cousin or, you know, nephew or something like that, and that actually means that, of course, that the house, whilst it's being passed down and you can inherit it on the condition that your name is changed to Knight. So that actually means that, as I said, different branches of the family have sort of come in and that's actually how come the Austins ended up, you know, connected to Chawton House, because the Austins and the Knights were fourth cousins.

Caroline Jane Knight:

Thomas and Catherine Knight at the end of the 18th century realised they weren't going to have children. They needed an heir. They knew the Austins well and they thought that Edward Austin, jane's older brother, was made of the right stuff. You know you're appointing the next CEO of the family business is what you're doing in kind of today's terms. And by all accounts, edward was a very, very good squire of Chorton and he was a good pick. But that meant that you know, all of the Knight Estates which was Chorton and Steventon and Godmersham Park at that stage all went to Edward on the condition he changed his name. So he changed from Edward Austin to Edward Knight, which is why we're Knights and not Austins, because Edward is my fourth great-grandfather. That's where the line sort of comes in. Obviously Jane had no children of her own, so that's how properties ended up with the Austins. And then Jane obviously had the opportunity in 1809, with her mother and sister, martha Lloyd, to move to Chawton to the cottage, and that's where she sat down in earnest to write. Now we of course all know that Jane died relatively young but the rest of the family didn't and everybody else just stayed in Chawton and Chawton House was actually just continued to be passed down through the line, and I'm just incredibly lucky I really am that I am, as I said, I'm part of that direct line and then when I was born, my grandfather, who was Edward Knight III, was the squire and owned it and we were lucky enough to live there.

Caroline Jane Knight:

In practice, when we lived there, the house was sort of split into separate sections, if you like so, and because originally there would have been a big house kitchen, which in modern times you can't cook in one of those big old kitchens that houses like that had. That's not how modern kitchens work. So in practice me and my family lived in the north wing you know different floors of the north wing and in one of the rooms which used to be the billiard room, a kitchen was installed in there, and in a room upstairs that had once been a dressing room or a small bedroom, a bathroom was put up there. So bathrooms and kitchens were sort of installed in different parts of the house. So we had the north wing. My grandparents had what you would have called the, you know I mean they had we were above stairs. I was all like panelled and glorious, if you know what I mean. It was all beautiful. My grandparents had, um, I suppose, the main part of the house, so they had the library in the grand bedroom chambers and the great hall and the study and you know they had that part of the house which was over a few floors and then my cousins had the entire top floor of the house is sort of how it worked, and again with kitchens and bathrooms sort of installed. It was a.

Caroline Jane Knight:

I mean, growing up at Chawton House was incredible. I mean, what an incredible place to be, and anyone that's been there will know what a special place it is and what the atmosphere is like there. And you can just imagine, you can just imagine Jane there. I mean it's just, you can just imagine Jane there. I mean it's just. It's so Austin-esque in its sort of feeling. It is to me anyway.

Caroline Jane Knight:

So our lives were a mixture of total normality, because one part of this story that I haven't said yet is that whilst we still lived in this incredible house, all of the money had run out decades before. So we had the house but in truth it was crumbling. I couldn't see that as a child, you don't. You don't see that An oak paneling doesn't look like that. But you know, scratch the cell, you know. And it needed a new roof and it needed things doing to it. Both of my parents I said there was no, you know, but in many ways we were just like any other family. Both of my parents worked. You know it was a constant, as in most families it is a constant juggle of managing the finances and making sure that bills can be paid. And you know, and the bills in that house were really expensive.

Izzy Meakin:

As most old houses are. Yes, absolutely.

Caroline Jane Knight:

I went to the local school like everybody else, you know I. In a way life was completely and utterly normal, the same as everybody else had it, but we were living in what was partly home but also partly venue, if you like, you know, because there were sort of six to eight big events that would be held at the house every year. You know, the the Village Fate was there every year, the Cultural Show was there every year, the Jane Austen Society of AGM was there every year. The Tea Room was open all summer, you know. So it was always a busy, working sort of house and I think in retrospect the Tea Room must have been for income, it must have been for my grandparents, I'm assuming that's why Granny did it and, as I said, so it was.

Caroline Jane Knight:

But as a kid who loves cooking and I love getting involved in organising things and all that sort of thing, it was fantastic and I was always busy and there was always the next thing to bake with Granny for, or there was always the next event that we were sort of talking about and in between all of that that we had our sort of all of our family events there and all of the. So I'd say, at least on average, at least once a month, there was something that was going to happen at the house that was quite major, that we'd be getting ready for, and I loved that. I mean the feeling of being part of something, if you know what I mean. We were. We were the knights from Chornton House and and I was really proud of that, really proud of knowing where I came from and having such a strong connection- and such a centre of community as well.

Izzy Meakin:

It just sounds like the community just gravitated because that was the house, especially in Chawton as well.

Caroline Jane Knight:

I mean back in.

Caroline Jane Knight:

Edward's time that's what it had been exactly.

Caroline Jane Knight:

In that time the entire village obviously would have worked on the estate and it was part of the squire's you know, duty was to, you know, throw those occasions for the village and to, obviously, you know, an opportunity for everyone to get together and to say thank you to everybody.

Caroline Jane Knight:

So, yes, I mean, obviously for me it was completely normal, all of that was completely normal, but as I said it was, you know, I mean obviously for me it was completely normal, all of that was completely normal, but as I said it was, you know, and I mean I suppose the other thing that was notable about it is, of course, when you grow up, where 17 generations of your family have been before I'm 17th generation, you know every single thing that you can see.

Caroline Jane Knight:

Somebody, you know, one of your ancestors has put it there. There, all over the walls, every tree's been planted by somebody, every you know rooms are all sort of, you know, marked with different people's initials in the, in the, in the wood paneling, you know, beautifully carved, and all these different things, and the sense of belonging that gives you, yeah, is really strong, if you know what I mean and I haven't lived in chawton house, oh, for at least 35 years, but it is so part of me, you know, I mean I can't, and it's not actually the bricks and mortar, that's not what it is, it's no, it's.

Caroline Jane Knight:

That place is where I come from, um, and that's where that sense of belonging?

Izzy Meakin:

it's almost part of your dna.

Izzy Meakin:

Yeah, absolutely, it is, absolutely, it is, it is, yeah, yeah and I'd love to touch on that a little bit more later on when we talk about, obviously, what it was like um to leave. But, um, considering you were talking about jane austen, how you saw her as a pioneer, something that stood out in your book as well is how many women pioneers you had in your family, like your gran, for instance, seemed like such an amazing woman. Your mum was such a promoter for education for women. So, yeah, I'd really love to you just to chat a little bit about that yeah, so, granny, as you said, I mean, I mean in.

Caroline Jane Knight:

If you read the history books, of course, all the obituaries, if you look, if you like, of note in the family it's the men, aren't they? It's the men that are the squires and it's the men that hold the titles and it's the men that do all of that. But it? But in practice, of course, the women are also playing an extremely important role of what's going on and in practice, it's often the women that are actually running the show. You know, behind the scenes, as it were, and certainly that's how it felt in. Uh, you know behind the scenes, as it were, and certainly that's how it felt in. You know, between my grandparents, my grandfather Edward Knight III we obviously didn't call him that, we called him Bapops, that was his nickname from the family, but he was reclusive. By the time I was born, he was very reclusive and spent most of his time, you know, in the house, sitting in the library, and I actually didn't. And this is this is something that I think really sort of is just a marker of how different the culture was, because my grandfather, who I spent 17 years living with, never spoke to me. We never had a conversation in all of that time and except for on his deathbed, which obviously I write about in the book what that sort of conversation was and what that was like. So he was very reclusive, didn't talk to me and lots of other people too. He just was, as I said, a very reclusive man. So my grandmother was the one that was absolute front and center. If there were tradespeople there, she was dealing with them. If she, you know, she ran the tea room, she made sure that he was looked after. She dealt with, you know, anything that had to be dealt with. It was granny doing it and she was to me. She was an incredibly loving granny and I spent a lot of time cooking with her, organizing things with her, and I would I learned a lot from her. I mean, that sort of you know, I definitely picked up a lot from her. I think to other, that sort of you know, I definitely picked up a lot from her.

Caroline Jane Knight:

I think to other people she could have and I'm saying this obviously in an amusing way, I love her very dearly, but she could have a touch of the Catherine de Burghs, just in the sense of the level of confidence with which she spoke. I don't mean. I mean, obviously Catherine de Burgh says ridiculous things and Granny didn't do that, but I just mean that air of utter authority and you know, even the most sort of you know, you know cheekiest of friend we might have had, if you know what I mean would wouldn't not in front of granny. Nobody would ever, you know. And so if granny said something, you didn't, I didn't question it, you know, she was just a woman of absolute certainty.

Caroline Jane Knight:

Um, and in the tea room which now I mean, when I look back, I think it's hilarious in the tea room she had this funny idea because she used to make all the cakes, and nowadays it's obviously all about having all the individual cakes and things it wasn't.

Caroline Jane Knight:

Back then she made, you know, there'd be a big chocolate sponge, a big coffee cake, a big victoria sponge and obviously slices were cut and put on plates for people that were buying tea and cake. She had this for some reason, and this is what I think it was. I think it was because it was in her mind these were people coming into her house and having tea and in her mind they didn't get to choose what cake they were going to have. So if you ordered tea and cake, you were not allowed to say can I have a piece of coffee cake? No, you will get whichever piece of cake you get given. And to the point where sometimes people would say, can I choose my cake? And I'd know she was sort of hovering and I'd sort of go give it a minute give it a minute you know what I mean and wait till she'd sort of left the room sneak you the cake.

Caroline Jane Knight:

Which one do you want? You know, I don't know why she, as I said, the only thing it sort of felt like is because, as I said, and obviously we're talking a long time ago and I don't mean the concept of customer service was different in the way that of course customers were, you know, were really important and she was incredibly polite to people and things, but she just had some very firm ideas about things and she wasn't going to be and I never asked her why. I wouldn't have dared, I wouldn't have dared ask her why. But, as I said, I don't want to come across like she was scary To me. She wasn't at all. She was just a very self-assured woman.

Izzy Meakin:

She was the mistress of chawton house is who?

Caroline Jane Knight:

she was, yeah, yeah, it was, you know, and she embodied that. My mother's background is very, very different. Mum was actually born in england but came over to australia when she was um a, you know, a couple of years old, and settled in south australia, so actually spent her childhood here in Australia. And when my dad was about 18, I think, he came out to Australia from England and ended up working on a sheep station up in mid-north South Australia, not far from where my mum lived, and they actually met at a country dance there, subsequently ended up going back how very Austin, isn't it? Absolutely, absolutely. And I certainly know that I don't think my mother really, I mean, I think dad had a crumpled photograph of Chawton house in his, in his pocket, but that was about it. She actually didn't really kind of understand or comprehend. You know necessarily what she was um, you know what she was getting into, um, but um, they, um, yeah, so they actually got married in australia, they had my brother here and then went, went back to england, um, but my mother the thing I have to say that I really, really admire about my mother, and it's very interesting having sort of a family again that has two different cultures in it, as a lot of us do, a lot of our families, you know, a lot of people have, obviously, families that blend two different cultures. But my mother has, you know that, just that absolute spirit of I'm going to say something very Australian now, but the sort of Aussie battler, if you know what I mean. There's something that's very sort of just, you know, because people that were immigrants into this country when my mother was, you know, which would have been in late 40s, early 50s you know they had to make it happen for themselves. They were, you know, they had to. You know that was about actually being people that solve problems and did things and made it happen for themselves. And my mother's got that. She's also got an incredibly philanthropic streak to her. You know mum was always arranging, you know, a fair in the village to raise money for the church roof, or she used to run balls at Chawton House to raise money for the church. So she was always doing something that was for someone else.

Caroline Jane Knight:

And you know, right from an early age that's very much been part of my upbringing and the sort of the concept of, you know, with privilege comes responsibility. I mean to me that absolutely, you know, with privilege comes responsibility. I mean to me that, absolutely, you know, our family motto is Suivant Saint-Pierre, which is obviously follow St Peter, which is actually a very religious, obviously, statement. You know, obviously St Peter and you know the gates of heaven. But to me, if I had to say, what did I actually think it is? You know, in terms of my experience there, certainly with granny and my mother, it was with privilege comes responsibility and there was never.

Caroline Jane Knight:

You know, there used to be occasionally and I don't know where these people came from, but occasionally. I remember I'm going to sound really rude, I'm going to say something. I don't know if this is the appropriate term to use nowadays, but what I would have called back then tramps. You know, really sort of disheveled sort of people that looked like they were sort of homeless. A couple of sort of old tramp men used to turn up, you know, in the summer and granny would give them some food and whatever, but she spoke to everybody with the same level of respect, the same level of. You know, she was exactly the same with everybody and my mother was the same, if you know what I mean.

Caroline Jane Knight:

There's absolutely no, you know, and if you have privilege, and we do. We've got no money, that's not the, you know, that's not the privilege, but we're all incredibly privileged to be born into Western societies and be educated and to have the opportunities that we do. And you know, I'm obviously incredibly privileged to have the heritage that I've got. Um, I mean, you know, who wouldn't want to be related to jane austen? I mean, you know, I, I can't, I wouldn't swap it for anybody. You know, for anything I wouldn't swap it. Um, and so, as I, yes, I certainly think that those two qualities of you know, energy and making things happen, and that drive to, as I said, want to, of course, do well for ourselves. You know, being philanthropic isn't at the expense of yourself. You want to do well for yourself, but it's also important that that you're, you know that, that you're contributing at the same time yeah, yeah, totally get that in.

Izzy Meakin:

I think that again links to that idea that obviously at the house it was this center of community and I love that particularly a lot of the women in your family that was. They just took on that role as, like the hosts you know, they were made sure that the community was invited in and that there was these opportunities for them to get together and run occasions, raise money, that kind of thing which obviously we'll talk about is. You've now continued that yourself. But I'd love to talk about what it was like to leave Chawton, obviously, where it got to the point that you had to leave and your family had to move out. Um, in your book you linked it to what it was like for the Dashwoods leaving their home and and Elliot when she had to move out with her home.

Izzy Meakin:

Um, I think for anybody moving out with your childhood home is difficult, but particularly, like you said, for Chawton, it having such a deep rooted place in everybody's heart like it's part of your DNA, what that was like. Um, you put a quote in your book actually that said that and it was a bit later when you were reflecting back. It said Chawton weighed heavily on my mind and it made me think about, in Rebecca, that first line where she says you know, last night I dreamt of Mandalay again Obviously different connotations, but it's just that you know that it sticks with you forever in a way it almost haunts you, not necessarily always in a negative way, but that it has that lasting impression. So I'd love to talk about what it was like to leave, but then also living with leaving your home.

Caroline Jane Knight:

So I always knew that we were going to have to leave. I don't remember, not knowing that, I mean again, again. So that must have been something that was. When I say talked about, I mean it wasn't a conversation that I ever would have had with granny or with, but certainly my parents, you know, in in the privacy of our quarters, would have, you know, I mean families don't anyway, but particular family of that culture. Money isn't something that anybody talks about, you know. I mean. So that wasn't a conversation. But particularly family of that culture, money isn't something that anybody talks about, you know. So that wasn't a conversation, as I said, that the family as a whole were having together.

Caroline Jane Knight:

But I knew from my parents that, yes, we had the house and obviously the land it sat on, but other than that, the fortune was gone. I knew that and I could see with my own eyes that. Because once you've sold off all the buildings and the land and everything, you start selling the contents. And so it was plain to see by comparing photographs of chawton house from decades prior to those rooms now, and just realising what had gone, what we didn't have anymore. But at the same time it's very difficult At the same time. So I've got that, my parents being very honest with me in that way but, of course, reassuring us that it would all be okay. At the same time we've got visitors, and all these visitors think we're really rich, why wouldn't you, why wouldn't you? So they all think and say we're really rich. So do people that I go to school with. They have an assumption that we're really rich, or certainly the kids do. I mean, the parents might have been able to see that that wasn't quite the case, but certainly the children did, and so those two messages are quite conflicting. It was also quite difficult as a child to comprehend that I can stand here, you know, outside, and I can twist, turn and every single thing I can see, we, we own, and yet you're telling me we haven't got any money, that those two things don't go together. As a kid you can't square that. So it was something that I always knew but didn't quite believe. You know, there was always a part of me that thought no, my grandfather's just eccentric. Do you know what I mean? Somewhere there's going to, you know, somewhere there's going to be a suitcase tucked under a bed, somewhere that's going to have. You know, it's going to be full of gold, surely, surely. And also I think I believed that because isn't that much easier to believe than what the reality was. That was much easier. So I think as a child I went with that. I went with that as the answer and, of course, when it actually happened, I mean it's like anything when these things happen.

Caroline Jane Knight:

You know, when Bapops died, in one way it was sort of strange because he was someone I had zero relationship with, I didn't know him at all. So the grief it wasn't actually, to be honest, it wasn't actually that I've lost a grandfather who I'm really close to. That's not what's happening, but I've just lost A. Of course, to me he was the king. He was the king, wasn't he of our family in that sort of way? And also I knew that his death meant so much to so many people, just in terms of what was about to happen, the amount of change that was about to happen. You know, his death, I knew, signalled the end because obviously, you know, by the time he actually died, I was 17 by then and I had, you know, through conversation with mum and dad, really understood, I did really understand by the time he died that that would be the end of it. So it was sort of hugely significant. Of course it was, and like any sort of thing like that, we all or certainly I do in those moments I sort of I don't know. I sort of almost go into a slightly dream state, if you know what I mean. You're just getting through it, aren't you? You're just putting one foot in front of the other and doing what you got to do.

Caroline Jane Knight:

We left Chornton House actually about a year later, so it wasn't immediate, which was great. My uncle, richard, inherited as the eldest son and was fantastic and worked, you know, with my parents and obviously I had other aunts and uncles and cousins that lived there to obviously give everyone, you know, good time to find alternative places to live. And my parents bought a house in Alton. I actually left home before we actually left. I got a nanny job, a live-in nanny job which, looking back on it now, was simply because I just couldn't bear it. I did not want to job a living nanny job which, looking back on it now, was simply because I just couldn't bear it. I did not want to be there for the last day. I could not at all and I didn't. Now, looking back on it.

Caroline Jane Knight:

What I actually did was run away and just left everybody else. I mean, I didn't help pack it up, I didn't help do anything, which now I think, oh my goodness, how selfish was that. I mean, I really should have been helping, but I just couldn't do it. I couldn't do it and it absolutely broke my heart, and still does, you know, absolutely, absolutely. But it's something that and again, it's not the house, it's the family being together, it's the sense of belonging, it's the, you know, and I just don't think that I had, as I said, because I couldn't quite accept it, because that was just too difficult to think about, I hadn't really in my mind formed any identity that existed outside of Chornton. If you know what I mean, I'm Caroline Jane Knight from Chornton.

Caroline Jane Knight:

If you know what I mean, I'm Caroline Jane Knight from Chornton House. That's who I am, you know, and I bake with Granny on a Sunday and I do this on a, you know, and even as I was growing older, obviously, and getting you know first boyfriend and things like that, which of course takes your attention away, doesn't it, as you start to grow up, but those events and things, you know, I never missed the fate. I never missed Snapdragon. I never, you know. Those things were still really important.

Caroline Jane Knight:

So my reaction to it was to run in the opposite direction, starting off as a nanny and I eventually ended up in business. I was absolutely determined that I was going to be successful on my own, independently. And I was determined because I didn't ever want to be moved out of my home again when it wasn't my decision, if you know what I mean. It really made me so determined, also, determined that I didn't, you know, I didn't want to marry a rich guy. I don't want to be beholden to him. Do you know what I mean? I just had a whole thing that I am going to be in control of what happens to me from now on, which in a way made me, you know, too much of a workaholic, too ambitious too, you know. I mean, there was a while there where I I really did sort of, you know, ardently stride off in that direction.

Caroline Jane Knight:

But the good thing about it is is that that that absolute drive I had propelled me a very long way forward, you know, and I and actually you know it drove me into a corporate career, and a good one, you know, and certainly professionally I've done very well and that's been as I said. That has been. That absolutely came from that, that that you know that drive, that this isn't happening again. And I'm sure when I started work I probably had ridiculous sort of thoughts of and I'm going to make millions and buy it back. You know I've given that up a long time ago. Now I realize what's involved in a house like that. I don't want to. You know what I mean.

Izzy Meakin:

I'll keep my millions. I'll make them and keep them I really get it.

Caroline Jane Knight:

And I really do get it. I you know it's a constant expense and struggle to kind of keep a house like that going even today.

Izzy Meakin:

It is um even a smaller version, like the house I grew up and was like the converted, like stable house. I'm not converted that well, but like we used to come downstairs and the mop was frozen in the kitchen, like in the thing.

Caroline Jane Knight:

It was frozen because the house was that cold, because you it's just it's impossible to keep houses even on a small yeah, we had heating yeah, exactly, exactly because of the cost.

Izzy Meakin:

Yeah, it's impossible to keep houses that are that old. Yeah, it really is. It takes so much money. So, yeah, in, I totally get what you're saying, this idea of feeling like you're kind of running away. Do you think that kind of fed into how you kind of ran away from um, like for I know, for a while you really didn't talk about the fact that you were like where, where you come from, like how your family was linking to Jane Austen and and your book. Something that stood out to me is when you, when everybody, started watching the 1995 Pride and Prejudice and how you obviously had a connection to it but you didn't really want people to know that and you didn't even really want to watch it in the first place nobody.

Caroline Jane Knight:

So I didn't. I mean, of course, people I grew up with of course know who I knew, always knew who I am. Of course I did, but because I moved away from the area, I then didn't tell anybody for 25 years. I didn't tell anybody. For 25 years I didn't tell anybody what my background was or about the house, or that I had a connection to Jane Austen and, as you quite rightly say, so 1995. So at this point Chawton House wasn't open yet as a public building. So in those days people actually didn't know Chawton. It'd been a private home. Why would anybody know it? It was never advertised on the internet. The internet didn't exist. I mean, it was a private home. But of course now it's known all over the world, but it wasn't back then.

Caroline Jane Knight:

But as you said, so I was at university, yes, and everyone, all the girls, were going on about this new thing and yes, and I never said a word. Never said a word. I just for me at the time, because I literally, you know, my heart broke and my way of dealing with that was to write let's pop that off, you know, in a box somewhere else. And I'm going in the opposite direction to do something else. I didn't. I in no way, you know, processed it or whatever the you terms are to use. If you know what I mean, I no way actually got over it at all. I just ignored it. So I didn't want to talk about it. Um, because all it was to me was just loss and pain. And you know just something I didn't want to talk about and I also think that it it was a very difficult loss to talk about then, because I always had this sense of if I actually tell people about this, they're going to say I'm upset. How do I explain that? And actually saying to somebody the fact that I had to, effectively I had to move house when I was 18. If I that, you know, it felt like, well, lots of people have to move house. Do you know what I mean? It felt like such a silly little thing to have been so catastrophic to me at the time and it also I also used to have this sense of that. I'm saying we've lost our castle and I'm really I. It came across like, or I used to be worried that I'd just come across like a sport brass, if you know what I mean who was sucking because I've lost my big bedroom, you know. And so I didn't, because everyone else I knew was not. We didn't have any money. I wasn't interacting with rich people in my life. I haven't spent my life with people that you think live in houses like that. I haven't. I've spent my life with completely ordinary people. How on earth do I have that conversation with somebody? How do I do that? So I just never had this, so it was just easier not to.

Caroline Jane Knight:

But then in 2013, it all changed with the 200 year anniversary of Pride and Prejudice. By then I'd been in Australia, so I moved here in 2008. And one of the things I absolutely loved about Australia was there was no references to Jane Austen here, and there's a lot of Jane Austen readers here, but in you know, 15 years ago, whenever that was 16 years ago, jane Austen wasn't particularly part of popular culture here. That explosion hadn't yet happened here. It had in other countries, but not here yet. But then in 2013, which was 25 years after we left, it was the 200-year anniversary of Pride and Prejudice and because of that, in that sort of February, march of that year, all of a sudden, everywhere I looked, there was a reference to Jane Austen the Jane Austen Tea Room opened. It's about eight kilometers away from my house where I'm sitting right now, there's a Jane Austen Tea Room. There's nothing to do with me I mean, obviously I'm friends with them and I do events there and things but that's opened completely independently of me. You know all of the cultural centres and things and the State Library. You know everywhere was doing something Jane Austen sort of orientated. There were documentaries on TV, there were re-showings of Pride and Prejudice, obviously, and it just sort of felt. You know this place where actually I can forget about all of that is changing and that's not what it's going to be anymore. And I just had this real sense of it's.

Caroline Jane Knight:

Now the time has come that I need to deal with this. You know I can't run away anymore. I'm 43 at that point. I can't run away from this anymore. I've got to deal with this emotionally. You know I've got to get over this. I've got to be able to deal with this emotionally. You know I've got to get over this. I've got to be able to deal with this and also and and I'm I'm somebody that by character I know the best way to get the best out of myself is to back myself into a corner, if I don't, if you don't understand what I mean by that. So I knew that if I stood on the sidelines sort of thinking, oh well, maybe I'll I don't know, maybe I'll go visit Chorton once and see how that feels and maybe I knew that if I kind of just stood on the sidelines, I would faff about for years Do you know what I mean? Trying to do it and running away again and then trying to do it. So for me personally, I thought, right, I've got to do something, which is going to mean I have to get used to this. That's what I sort of mean. I mean I'm going to put myself in a position where I have to figure this out.

Caroline Jane Knight:

And just the business woman in me thought Jane. I mean. The business woman in me thought Jane. I mean, obviously, that 2013 anniversary just bought into such sharp focus how popular Jane is today. And because I'd been avoiding her for 25 years, I hadn't been avoiding her. Obviously, I'm incredibly proud of Jane.

Caroline Jane Knight:

It's nothing to do with her but because I was avoiding any memories of it, I actually didn't realise that she had transformed from this incredibly popular and but basically I mean the people that used to come to Chalk, when I lived there. You know they were readers of classical literature. Well, that's not the you know now. Yes, some of them are, but you've also got masses of people who obviously enjoy Austin through film and movie and societies and theater, and I mean there's so many you know. So now, as I said, you it's, it's become so huge and I just thought at that point there's an opportunity there, there's an opportunity to to, you know, if they, if, literally, if there are these tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people that are, that you know, passionate about Jane and her work and consider her, you know, almost in their friend's circle, you know, is Jane Austen, you know she's somebody that they, you know is really special to them. And I just thought, well, there's an opportunity in there, there's an opportunity in there to do something for good.

Caroline Jane Knight:

I suppose is when my thoughts started. I have no experience in literacy, I'm not a teacher, I'm not qualified in literacy at all, but I, as it happens, have always I've been on the board of charities for, let's just say, 15 years and even though I actually never realised I was doing it, they're all educational. Every charity I've been on has always been about education and that was never a conscious decision, but they have. And I just thought, you know, jane Austen's got to be literacy, hasn't it? I mean, it was just a no brainer, I mean, there was.

Caroline Jane Knight:

No, I didn't write a list and pick literacy. It's the jane austen literacy foundation and it was sort of you know the moment of thought to do I want to get involved in this. So, okay, I've got to do something. As I said, I the only way I'm going to get over this is almost by, as I said, facing that fear really head-on, step right in the middle of it. Jane austen literacyacy Foundation, that's what I'm doing, and I'm now going to give up my CEO job that I've had, that I'm doing really well at, so I can do this foundation.

Caroline Jane Knight:

That happened in probably 15 minutes and it was something that. But then I found, as soon as I'd had the idea, and I thought, you know, with the combination of my heritage and the business skills I've got, you know, and of course, this worldwide passion for Jane Austen mixed in, there is an organisation that can do a lot of good. And I actually and I realised that I'm actually the only person that has the combination of those things who's here wanting to do it. So if I don't do it, it's not going to happen, is it? And it was like this idea that I couldn't unhave it. Do you know what I mean? I couldn't unhave the idea. I just there was no going backwards from there. There was just no going back it sounds like the um.

Izzy Meakin:

The universe agreed and the universe was always pushing you to it as well, especially in the end.

Caroline Jane Knight:

It was like hello, we've been trying to push you exactly, and it's one of these things, exactly that, that and you do. Those things do happen in life where you think actually, you know, when I look back, it looks like all roads have been leading to here which I had no idea about. I didn't know that at all, but, but absolutely all things just and there was just a moment. And that happens in life, doesn't it just these pivotal moments where where things just change and, and so I did resign from a CEO role at that point. I was CEO of a big marketing agency here, so I resigned from that job and set up a sort of.

Caroline Jane Knight:

I actually worked professionally in FMCG retail, which is supermarkets, you know, yeah, the the retail industry, so I'm a sort of marketing and consultant and business leader in that space, um, so I set up a small business so I could actually work part-time. So I now can. I've been consulting to businesses for the last consulting and coaching for what? 12 years now? Um, but that's because, really because that's enabled me to work part time, because the foundation is a completely volunteer organization, so I'm a volunteer as well. So you know, it's been something that I've probably given. You know, two or three days a week for 10 years to, but I obviously still have to work to to pay my bills.

Caroline Jane Knight:

Yes, a labor of love, well, well, it really is a labor of love. It's also something that I said. It's a great opportunity, I don't you know? It's also, of course, all of us love doing something that we think makes a difference and also is our legacy as well. If you know what I mean, you know I, I, of course, I want to do something, and if the jane austen literacy foundation is is what I contributed then, then I'm good with that you know, that'll you know yeah, I think that's very much true of your whole family.

Izzy Meakin:

I think not for everyone, but for for the in particular, lineage and legacy seem to intertwine. That's not always the case, I think. People think it is but it isn't. But I think for your family that has been the case and I love that you went and you've now started the foundation, because I think that just, and with it being literacy and Jane Austen and everything, yeah, I think definitely it's what you were meant to do in many ways.

Caroline Jane Knight:

It was Now, in fairness, I mean, I think that, of course, this has been driven in fairness more by the worldwide Jane Austen community, who made Jane into this phenomenal success. I mean one of the things I've always been interested, always, even as a child. As I said, I'm actually more connected, I mean obviously, obviously, I've read all of Jane's work and I think I mean, of course, I recognize the utter genius of her writing and I could talk for a day about how incredible I think her writing is. And, and you know, she is incredible as a because, I think, because I'm not a writer, but I am a businesswoman, I mean, I am somebody that I spend my life talking to people and trying to help people, um, you know, um, you know, make the most of their potential, tap into themselves and reach their dreams and achieve what they want to. And because I do that and and that's something that I've, you know, as a child, I was always fascinated with what all of these people here, for you know, as as an audience. Why do they come? What are they looking for? Why are they here?

Caroline Jane Knight:

What was it about Jane that made her successful? Because, yes, talent is, of course, incredibly important and her talent is beyond question, but it does actually take more than talent to be successful. You know, you've actually got to have a plan, haven't you? You've got to have, you know, and there's lots of things Jane did that were, you know, that fit in very much to how we coach people nowadays and the things and the qualities we talk about that are, you know, that are important in, you know, in people, and it's very much as I said's, it's jane, the, the woman, if you like. That has been my inspiration very much, um, you know, in life yeah, I think the whole community can agree with that.

Izzy Meakin:

I think she's. She's almost this mass facilitator where we all find this space where we can belong. You know, and, um, I, I don't, I personally, I mean, I'm obviously in the Austin community, but I struggle to find another author who's had such a massive reach in that sense that you know, all these years later she's got such a there is a one. She's got this giant community. Yeah, exactly, and of course you've got other people like Shakespeare which are equally respected, of course.

Caroline Jane Knight:

And of course you've got other people like Shakespeare, which are equally respected, of course, and you know, but in terms of the volume of activity today for a classic writer, she's absolutely, absolutely unrivaled, Absolutely yeah.

Izzy Meakin:

Yeah, it's pretty incredible. I'm, if you don't mind, chatting a little bit about the main focus of the foundation, the work that you're doing I think that'd be really good for everybody to hear and also ways that you're raising money and what's next in your calendar for the foundation.

Caroline Jane Knight:

So the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, we do a few things. Our mission, if you like, is to connect through literacy, and that sort of manifests itself in a few different ways. So one of the things we do and we're run entirely by volunteers and there'd be hundreds of people involved across the world, but what we do is a few things. So one of the things is we run a calendar every year of different literacy activities online that engage our community. So we do a global writing competition, which actually closed yesterday, so we're waiting to see who the winner of this year's winner is. But we do a global writing competition every year and the winner of the three winning short stories are actually recorded as an audio book by Alison Larkin, who is the top selling Austin narrator, and published worldwide. So that's, you know, that's a great prize. We run a 30 day literacy challenge in September. You know we do lots of things like that. That, as I said, are great ways of connecting our community and very much, you know, in literacy activities. We also raise money, as you said, and we raise money for literacy programs in developing communities, and we raise money in all sorts of ways. You know we've got a book plate shop online you can buy a book plate personalized with your name and Jane Austen's handwriting. We do events. We are literally launching this week, which will be Wednesday, a tea for literacy campaign. So for two months we're asking people to be a host, you know, throughout May and June, be a host of tea for literacy and be a fundraiser for the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, and you can get online and you download a free pack that's got everything you could need in it and you have a fun afternoon tea, you know, and it's got some Jane Austen games and things in there that you can, that you can play. So we have lots of different mechanics, if you like, for raising money, as you'd expect, but, as I said, and all of that money is spent on literacy programs in developing communities.

Caroline Jane Knight:

We also because one of the things that's really magic about the Jane Austen community, a couple of things. One, most people are highly literate. They're either, you know, people that read a lot, they're teachers, they're writers. That is the general. If you like, jane Austen community and also the Jane Austen community are, in general, very generous people. You know. They're people that that are, are, you know, have a good spirit. They're people that you know, or certainly the people that come forward. You know they want to be part of something. You know, obviously they want to be part of something with Jane Austen's name on it. So we have the.

Caroline Jane Knight:

We're very lucky actually as an organization. It is actually one of the unique powers that we have, if you like, is the ability to draw really good quality volunteers who are happy to, you know, obviously share their literacy skills. So with that we do a couple of things. We do things like we create resources for schools, for teachers and things. So our volunteers will put together things that teachers can just download and, do you know, different literacy activities that they can easily use in the classroom, that sort of thing and a whole load of other things. But that's resources for schools, um, and we also do um, which we're actually pivoting the program at the moment. But we actually do something called a literacy mentor program and that's where people can um. Again, they give a couple of hours a month of their time, um, and they might be mentoring somebody who needs some help with literacy. They might be, you know, but they'll actually be giving their time directly. They might be reading children's work and sort of giving some constructive feedback on it, you know. But basically it's using their own time and their own literacy skills to benefit obviously, other people that need it, their own time and their own literacy skills to benefit obviously other people that need it.

Caroline Jane Knight:

And I have to say, when I started the organization, I imagined that fundraising was going to be the key focus, and it is still a big focus of what we do. But as I got to know and work with the Jane Austen community across the world so much as I said, the fact that the volunteer base that we have and you know how generous the community is and how happy people are to share their literacy with other people that is actually grown into a much bigger part of the organisation than I realised at the beginning it was going to. So we're looking in the future, at future programmes of things like can we, um, you know, in places like India and we fund some programs in India? Um, you know, in some of those sort of most impoverished reasons regions, if you like some of the teachers that work there, their own education isn't, isn't to the quality or standard that a Western teacher for want of a better expression would have. Um, so we're looking at things like well, how do we create a mentor program, you know, so that you know a teacher perhaps who's you know got a high level of qualification in America, say, you know, can they do a once monthly mentor session with a teacher in India? And just try and, you know, give them some tips and some help on how to improve literacy in the classroom, those sorts of things. So we're constantly looking at ways to, as I said, use the volunteer resources to the best and really see how we can apply those best to the literacy mission and, of course, how we're going to increase the fundraising.

Caroline Jane Knight:

2025 is coming up. Next year is a big year for us, big year for the entire Jane austen community. Obviously it's the 250 year anniversary of jane's birth, um, which is going to be a big deal, and for a period of time, jane austen will be mainstream. You know that's. That's a historic event. That, of course, um, I would think that every media outlet's at least going to want to mention it, aren't they? Um? And there's going to be again, again, a whole load of activity. Every cultural centre and library, and you know, all of those places are going to be having some sort of Jane Austen event. So, like an awful lot of organisations that work in the Jane Austen arena. We're very much getting ready for 2025.

Caroline Jane Knight:

I'm planning to visit America and do some, you know, do some events in America and we're actually launching the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation in America. It's launching, you know, as a registered charity in America in 25. That'll happen. So all eyes are there. My next trip you know immediately what's next is in June. My next trip, you know immediately what's next, is in June.

Caroline Jane Knight:

Every June I go back to Chorton for Jane Austen Regency Week, of which I'm patron of, jane Austen Regency Week, and I host a couple of events there.

Caroline Jane Knight:

So one we do, a parade for literacy to raise money for the foundation, and the other that we do is a Regency picnic that we do in the grounds of Chorton House, which I'm host of and always organised.

Caroline Jane Knight:

But this year I'm actually going a week early this year because I have been invited. There's a big event going on at a big venue called G Live in Guildford and there's an event there called the Sanditon Celebration. So that is a celebration of all things Sanditon over a couple of days, um, and there's going to be, you know actors and cast, you know crew and writers and things and things there and lots of different speakers and things, and I'm actually speaking there on a Saturday, um, and then I've actually been asked to co-host there's a Sanditon awards on the Saturday night, um, which is the 15th of June, and I've been asked to co-host there's a sanditon awards on the saturday night, which is the 15th of june, and I've been asked to host co-host that. So that'll be very nice, handing out some awards. So I said over a little bit earlier this year, but that's uh, yeah, that's my next plan and I'll add all the information that caroline's mentioned below as well, so everybody can find.

Izzy Meakin:

Obviously, the foundation and the sanditon event, all of that kind of thing will be in the bio, as always. Um, another thing that I want to ask you before we wrap up is what was your experience like reading Jane Austen for the first time? What was it like coming back to it later in life? And you know, just in general, like your experience reading Austen, I can imagine it's slightly different than what everyone else experiences, because you have such a connection, I think that.

Caroline Jane Knight:

So I wasn't, I mean. And so growing up at Chorton House, I said because I was a kid that wanted to be so involved in everything you know and I wanted to be cooking and getting ready for things and or helping dad in the garden, or and, and again, because we had the property but we didn't have the staff to go with it. Everybody was busy Every weekend. My father would be out with a chainsaw clearing a broken tree, or my parents had a big vegetable garden in the walled garden at Chorton House. Everyone was busy, so I joined in with that. So I was actually, as a child, not a hugely avid reader, if you know what I mean. I wasn't a bookworm of a child. I did try reading Pride and Prejudice I'm gonna say it's eight or nine, that sort of age and, to be quite honest, it was too much for me, if you know what I mean. It wasn't something that I could understand enough to read, so I didn't. Um, I then came back to it, however, when I was about 14, 15, and that was a time at which the inevitable end of chawton house was not on my mind, but was you know it was coming, and we, you and we didn't know when, but we knew it was going to come at some point. And the fact that it really was the end was sinking in. And when I read Pride and Prejudice, the bit that I was interested in was Mr Collins and that entail and Mrs Bennett. Entail and Mrs Bennet because that Chawton house was entailed to my father's eldest brother, richard older but the only older brother, richard. So Chawton house is under an entail. So that's the same thing, isn't it, as what's going on in this book. You know when, when the patriarch dies, you know everyone's gonna have to leave the house because somebody else is going to inherit it. Now, richard is no Mr Collins. I mean, don't get me wrong. Richard's an absolute gentleman. He's an absolutely lovely, lovely man, but he didn't live there. So as a child he was a visitor, know, a visitor who's going to inherit our house and when he does, we're gonna have to leave. And, as I said, richard's absolutely lovely. He never made us feel awkward about that. There was never. You know that he's a lovely man, but that still was the situation. So when I first read pride and prejudice, that's what I was homing in on and I didn't. I know everyone else talked about lizzie and Darcy, but that's not what I was concentrating on at all. Um, and I used to. When I first, when I first published Jane and Me in 2017 and and I was doing a lot of interviews and things at that stage journalists it was quite a common question of which Bennett's sister are you and for some reason, that used to you know. Um, I used to get asked that exactly which Bennett's sister are you? And I always used to used to you know, I used to get asked that exactly which Bennet's sister are you, and I always used to say I'm none of them. I'm Mrs Bennet.

Caroline Jane Knight:

I relate to that woman and I actually sometimes get quite cross at how Hollywood has turned her into such a ridiculous character, because I know that she was written with a lot of wit around. You know the writing, and isn't it wonderful that she was with a lot of wit around. You know the writing, and isn't it wonderful that she was? And that's great. But she wasn't written quite as ridiculously as some of the movie makers would make her and actually, arguably, she was the only slain one of the lot of them, if you know what I mean. She was the only one that really got and seemed to be taking seriously what was going on in a way that I could relate to. You know, because to me that was the worry what is going to happen? What is going to happen, yeah, um, you know, I couldn't imagine living anywhere else. I had no, you know, and, and it was, it was. I mean, when I say it was scary, I mean it's, you know, like, you know, these things go on the I don't want to say it was scary, I mean, you know, these things go on in the background, don't they? It's not as though, you know, it was actually actively worrying me every day, but it was there. It was a conscious, you know, it was a conscious concern. So, yes, it took a long time.

Caroline Jane Knight:

I then read Sense and Sensibility, you know, as I was younger and I, you know, had read all of them, say, by the time I was 20. But in all of them, to be quite honest, at that time, that's all I was looking at. I wasn't reading them at all as objective novels. I couldn't see them in that way at all, because my naive mind which sounds ridiculous now, I mean, I was 15 when I read, as I said, pride and Prejudice, but my naive mind honestly went. How did she know? That's what I thought. My first thought was how did she know that that's the predicament we were going to be in and that's what she's written about? And, in truth, of course, she didn't know. It's just a very common story, but I didn't know that, other than what was going on with us and what was written in Pride and Prejudice. Those were the only two references I had to what happens to big house or what happens to properties when they're entailed in this inheritance thing. As I said, because we weren't socializing with other people that owned massive houses like that. That wasn't part of our, because we didn't have the money to be moving in those circles, and then it was only, as I said, as I've come back to jane austen.

Caroline Jane Knight:

So in 2013, and of course I went, I mean, I have to say, for a couple of years I consumed every movie I could. I, you know, I played catch up, um, and and of course, I've read all of her books multiple times in completely different eyes, in completely different eyes and for the first time actually. So I was probably in my 40s, I was definitely in my 40s the first time I actually read Jane Austen, I think, in the way that other people do. Of course, I knew she was really good because everybody else said she was you and this. Then, and all the fans and all the people coming and all this. So, and if all these people say and everyone says she's brilliant, but I don't, I didn't. In terms of her work, I didn't get that. Yes, till I was in my 40s.

Caroline Jane Knight:

As a youngster, I got how incredible she was, um, but that's probably also because that's what my mum used to tell me about. And I knew because we used to go to the village shop, which is where Cassandra's Cup Tea Room is now. So that's opposite Jane Austen's house, and we'd go down there a couple of times a week after school, for some reason you know, stop into the shop and so you'd see all these people coming in and out of Jane Austen's house and I used to ask mum, what are they doing? You know, I could never get. I could never understand why people were coming from all over the world to look at.

Caroline Jane Knight:

I'm going to say something really crass here and I don't mean it like this but look at the 200 year old stuff of a dead person. You know what I mean as a five-year-old. That's what it is. It's, it's. What are all these people doing? I just couldn't, I really couldn't get that. But mum used to explain to me, and what she used to tell me about, as I said, was the you know, the fact that Jane had completely defied all expectations of society. How brave she was. You know her refusing Harris Bigwithers, which we used to laugh about. You know, jane Bigwithers, you know that used to be a funny sort of you know, um, so that was the Jane, as I said, I grew up with.

Caroline Jane Knight:

I didn't really get to appreciate her literature until 10 years ago and people often say well, one of the things that sometimes happens at events when I do events is I just happened to on a few of them people seem, I think, sometimes actually quite disappointed when they learn that as a family living in Chorton, we weren't sitting around the fire on a Sunday afternoon reading Jane Austen out loud. That's the kind of impression they have and we weren't. And I think we weren't for a few reasons. I think we weren't because, oh, I think it's like. You know, this may be a bad example, but I don't think Brad Pitt's kids necessarily would be watching all of his movies the same as other people do. I mean, it is a different kind of thing when it's part of your family.

Caroline Jane Knight:

But also, I grew up in a household where my father and my brother are dyslexic, and dyslexia didn't exist back then, if you know what I mean. In the 70s and 80s it was a very new word. It certainly wasn't something that is well known as it is now. So when I was young, in practice my father's reading was very poor and his writing was very poor, and it was something that my brother had difficulties with as well. And when you live in a household with people that can't read and write very well, you don't spend your time talking about books and reading and writing, because somehow that's you know, I mean that it's not a you just don't, do you? You wouldn't be sitting around as a family talking about something, pointing out people's insecurities. So in practice, we were actually, you know, we were probably less, a lot less bookish than people would imagine we were.

Caroline Jane Knight:

And, as I said, that was driven by yes, by that, which is probably also another reason why I'm not and thankfully I'm very fortunate I'm not dyslexic and I have, you know, no literacy difficulties, but I think, probably the fact that I grew up in a household that did is probably another reason why the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation. Of course that's what I'm going to do. You know, of course that's what I'm going to do. You know, of course that's what I'm going to do Because, as I said, it's not my issue, but it is. It is something that I grew up with. I, you know, I have some understanding of what that does.

Izzy Meakin:

Yes, yeah, definitely. Well, this has been so amazing. Thank you so much for coming on Honestly fabulous. It was amazing reading your book and I thank you so much for coming on honestly fabulous.

Caroline Jane Knight:

It was amazing reading your book and I will link that below as well but also getting the chance to speak to you, as being so wonderful. Thank you so much. Anytime, anytime. That is everything from us today and I will see you in another episode. © transcript Emily Beynon.