Fanny Knight: Jane Austen’s Niece, without affection?

Image of watercolor painting of Fanny Knight, by Cassandra AustenAFFECTION

“And now, my dear Fanny, having written so much on one side of the question, I shall turn round and entreat you not to commit yourself farther, and not to think of accepting him unless you really do like him. Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection.” Letter to her niece Fanny Knight, 18 November 1814, The Letters of Jane Austen

The airing of the new biopic Miss Austen Regrets has refreshed my interest in the relationship between Jane Austen and her niece Fanny Knight. You can read about a recent post that I wrote on her family background and relationship with her aunt Jane here.  In re-reading some of their correspondence, I came across some interesting lines that you might recognize in the movie.

“Only one comes back with me tomorrow, probably Miss Eliza, & I rather dread it. We shall not have two ideas in common. She is young, pretty, chattering, & thinking chiefly (I presume) of dress, company, & admiration.”  November 30, 1814

“Nothing is to be compared to the misery of being bound without Love, bound to one, & preferring another. That is a Punishment which you do not deserve.” November 30, 1814

“Do not be in a hurry; depend upon it, the right Man will come at last; you will in the course of the next two or three years, meet with somebody more generally unexceptional than anyone you have yet known, who will love you as warmly as ever He did, and who will so completely attach you, that you will feel you never really loved before.” March 13, 1817

“Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor-which is one very strong argument in favor of matrimony.” March 13, 1817

“Do not oblige him to read any more. Have mercy on him, tell him the truth, and make him an apology. He and I should not in the least agree, of course, in our ideas of novels and heroines. Pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked.”  23 March 1817

“There are such beings in the world perhaps, one in a thousand, as the creature you and I should think perfection, Where grace & spirit are united to worth, where the manners are equal to the heart & understanding, but such a person may not come in your way, or if he does, he may not be the eldest son of a man of fortune, the brother of your particular friend & belonging to your own country.”  November 18, 1814

You can read further about their relationship at this post at Jane Austen’s World, and Jane’s Advice to Fanny Knight, at the Becoming Jane Fansite. In addition here are some excellent books for your consideration.

Image of book cover of The Letters of Jane Austen, (2006)Jane Austen’s Letters, by Deirdre Le Faye

Almost Another Sister: The Story of Fanny Knight, Jane Austen’s Favorite Niece, by Margaret Wilson

Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters: A Family Record, by William Austen-Leigh    

Jane Austen’s Persuasion (2007) – A Movie Review

Sally Hawkins, as Anne Elliot in Persuasion (2007)

A new adaptation of Persuasion will air on Masterpiece PBS tonight. Based on Jane Austen’s 1817 novel, its themes of patience, fortitude, and second chances ring true to today’s audience even after two hundred years. The story of Anne Elliot, a twenty-seven-year-old unmarried daughter of an aristocrat who was advised seven years earlier to decline an offer of marriage from a dashing young Royal Navy officer she loved because his social standing was not on par with her family’s rank, is one of Austen’s most poignant. When Wentworth reappears in her life as an established, wealthy, and eligible suitor, every unmarried young woman in the neighborhood takes notice. How the two react to this uncomfortable situation and work past their regret and disappointment is one of classic literature’s most endearing stories.

Adapting Austen’s story to the screen takes a highly sensitive writer and director. This new ITV/Masterpiece PBS production of Persuasion is the first installment of The Complete Jane Austen series this year on PBS which will also include new productions of three other new adaptations of her major novels, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, and Sense and Sensibility, and a biopic Miss Austen Regrets. There will also be an encore presentation of Emma (1996) and Pride and Prejudice (1995) to complete the lineup. This new Persuasion has a promising ensemble of accomplished British actors and crew to support Austen’s narrative. Being both a tragedy and a comedy, one really never knows how it will be handled.

There have been other screen adaptations of Austen’s classic love story, notably Persuasion (1995) a feature film starring Amanda Root as Anne Elliot and Ciarán Hinds as Captain Frederick Wentworth. Written by Nick Dear and directed by Roger Mitchell, it was produced by the BBC and was intended to air on TV, but later premiered as a theatrical movie. It won awards and the acclaim of the Jane Austen community for its gentle love story deftly told. I can still re-watch it in a heartbeat and be in awe of the fabulous acting, costumes, scenery, and sensitivity to Austen’s original novel.

Rupert Penry-Jones as Captain Frederick Wentworth in Persuasion (2007)

While it has been twelve years since it released, Persuasion (1995) casts a giant shadow for Jane Austen fans coloring their opinion of any new production. The screenwriter of Persuasion (2007), Simon Burke, took a different approach to his interpretation by accentuating the division between the two main characters. Anne (Sally Hawkins) is even more reserved and quiet, and Captain Wentworth (Ruppert Penry-Jones) even stiffer and unlikable than Austen’s origins, or the 1995 interpretation. The director Adrian Shergold played this up, even more, by often having Anne not speak, but use facial expressions and voice-overs to convey her emotions and feelings. The chemistry between the two principal characters continues to simmer and their eventual rekindled romance does spark some heat, but at what cost? The final scene when the lovers realize that they were meant to be together is one of Austen’s most memorable. The letter that Captain Wentworth writes to Anne to declare his love is frequently quoted and often discussed.

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in

F. W.

Swoon. The  “you pierce my soul” line could melt any romantic skeptic. Unfortunately, in this new adaptation, Anne reads the letter and then runs through the streets of Bath to find Captain Wentworth. This madcap marathon race by the heroine was comical and totally broke the romantic tension that Austen had built up to. It lost my respect as a viewer and canceled out much of the good qualities of this production that we had previously enjoyed.

Anthony Head as Sir Walter Elliot and his daughters in Persuasion (2007)

After completing Persuasion, Jane Austen wrote in 1817 to her niece Fanny Knight and shared that her heroine Anne “is almost too good for me,” jokingly placing her estimation of her good character above her own talent. Known for her sarcasm and irony in her novels and letters, Austen ofter undervalued her own opinions and work to add levity. I wish that the writer and director had heeded Austen’s backhanded admission of her talent and listened to her advice.

I really wanted to like this one. I did! It does have a few charms to recommend. Rupert Penry-Jones is easy to look at and has a commanding presence on screen. He also got short shrift with dialogue. Shame, because his voice is glorious. The two young Musgrove sisters are a delight against an otherwise somber landscape. Amanda Hale as the snorting Mary Musgrove stole her scenes. Anthony Head’s hilarious performance as foppish Sir Walter Elliot was also stellar. He is the real star of this version of Persuasion. Shall we rename it Arrogance in his honor and call it a day?

Persuasion (2007)
ITV/Masterpiece PBS

PURCHASE LINKS:

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received a review copy of this movie from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. Austenprose.com is an Amazon.com affiliate. We receive a modest remuneration when readers use our links and make a purchase. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Cover image courtesy of ITV/Masterpiece PBS © 2007; Text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2008, Austenprose.com

Sick and wicked

Image of Godmersham Park, by W. Watts (1799)WICKED

Do not oblige him to read any more. Have mercy on him, tell him the truth, and make him an apology. He and I should not in the least agree, of course, in our ideas of novels and heroines. Pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick and wicked; but there is some very good sense in what he says, and I particularly respect him for wishing to think well of all young ladies; it shows an amiable and a delicate mind. And he deserves better treatment than to be obliged to read any more of my works. Letter to her Niece Fanny Knight, 23 March 1817, The Letters of Jane Austen

Fanny Knight was Jane Austen’s first and most favoured niece. She was born when Jane was 17 years old in 1793, the eldest daughter of Jane’s brother Edward (Austen) Knight. She adored her and she was like a younger sister.

Image of the front cover of Almost Another Sister, by Margaret Wilson (1998)Much has be discussed and written about their relationship, including this book Almost Another Sister: The Story of Fanny Knight, Jane Austen ‘s Favourite Niece, by Margaret Wilson (1998), which is sadly out of print in the US, but can be ordered second hand through those wonderful people at AbeBooks.com.  Search here . Happily, there is an excellent review of the book by author Marilyn Sachs at the JASNA on-line journal Persuasions, entitled Austen’s Ungrateful Niece.

Five letters that Jane wrote to Fanny between 1814 and 1817 are filled with wise and eloquent advice on love, and openly acknowledge the deep affection she felt for her niece.

When one reads their correspondence, one often feels through their affection and concern for each other that Fanny Knight was the daughter that Jane Austen did not have.

So it is not surprising that Janeites are outraged by a letter written by Fanny, now Lady Knatchbull, in 1869, describing Jane as “very much below par as to good society and its ways.” Fanny believes that it was only due to her rich father and his superior connections that her aunt was rescued from “commonness and a lack of refinement.”

Image of a watercolour painting of Chawton CottageWell, well. The reference to Fanny’s rich father is of course Jane Austen’s brother Edward (Austen) Knight who was not wealthy until he was adopted in 1798 by Thomas and Catherine Knight, Austen family cousins who were titled gentry and childless. They owned the vast estates of  Godmersham Park, Kent and Chawton, Hants, which Edward inherited. He would later suppy his widowed mother and sisters Cassandra and Jane a cottage in the village of Chawton in 1809. Here is a listing for the (Austen) Knight family at Peerage.com. Sir Walter Elliot, Baronet of Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion would take express interest in the Knight family listing in A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britian.

Of note is the fact that Lady Fanny (Knight) Knatchbull was 77 years old when she wrote the letter in 1869, and from family accounts never expressed herself as eloquently as her aunt Jane, and was quite senile and forgetful for some years prior. This may have been the families way of dismissing this disparaging remark by a niece who Jane dearly loved. My thought is that Jane would have laughed at the comment since “pictures of perfection” made her “sick and wicked“! Further reading on that ungrateful niece Fanny and her infamous slam can be found on these excellent links and books.

*Image of a hand tinted engraving of Godmersham Park, by W. Watts, from Edward Hasted’s History of Kent (1799)