Given by his parents into the care of rich relatives, young Edward Austen moved to an elegant mansion, toured Europe, and learned the ways of England’s wealthy and powerful landowning class, preparing to take his place as the owner of estates spanning five counties. When he came into his inheritance—changing his name from Austen to Knight as part of the bargain—Edward found that managing estates required intelligence, risk-taking, and collaboration. His prosperity depended on the work of estate managers, tenant farmers, and laborers, and his support of the community gave the village of Chawton stability in trying times.
Jane Austen kept a close eye on her brother, and his experiences, activities, and challenges are reflected in the estate-owning characters in her fiction. Jane Austen, Edward Knight, & Chawton: Commerce & Community provides the closest look yet at Jane Austen's landowner brother: his character, his attitude toward what Jane called the "East Kent wealth" of the Knights, his position in the Chawton community, and his bonds with his Austen family.
Books on Jane Austen and her world are abundant, but this one stands out. It draws on a wide range of original documents, as well as the research of top historians and Austen scholars. This strong factual basis is central to the examination of Edward Knight's approach to managing his estates, an exploration of commerce and community in the Regency period, and an enlightening look at how that real world was reflected in Jane Austen's novels. As Austen biographer Deirdre Le Faye observes, "It is the knowledge that Jane gained from sharing in her rich brother's lifestyle, when visiting Godmersham and living in Chawton, that underpins the creation of Pemberley, Mansfield Park, and Donwell Abbey--and shows how, as always, her fictions have a solid basis in fact."
Introduction - The importance of estate management -- "Gipsies" in Chawton and Jane Austen's writing -- Information on primary sources related to Edward Knight, his family, and connections
Chapter 1 - Edward Knight: A biographical portrait of Jane Austen's landowner brother, focusing on his civic roles, personality, and his enduring connection with the Austens
Chapter 2 - The Knight Inheritance: The story of how Thomas Knight I acquired and improved the land, scattered across five counties of southern England, that Edward Knight came to inherit
Chapter 3 - Financial Overview: How rich was Jane Austen's brother, really? -- Where his money came from -- The historical context -- Net worth vs. spending power
Chapter 4 - The Business of Estate Management: A Closer Look: How Jane Austen's novels reflect the conditions and concerns of estate-owners in her time -- Opportunities for, and constraints on, moneymaking -- Expenses -- The estate-owner's responsibilities to heirs and to the community -- Charity in Chawton
Chapter 5 - Estate and Community: In-depth exploration of Chawton in Jane Austen's time, useful in understanding both the environment in which here novels were prepared for publication and as an example of the social structures seen in her work -- The interconnecting roles of the squire, the steward or agent, farmers and other tenants, tradesmen, and laborers -- Mini-biographies of six Chawton citizens and their families, from the genteel tenant in the Great House to agricultural laborers -- Jane Austen in Chawton: the author and the village around her
Chapter 6 - Evolution of the Chawton Estate: The estate passes to the next heir, Edward Knight II -- Economic and social forces that challenged the landed gentry's way of life at Chawton and elsewhere -- Restoration and reuse as Chawton House Library
Afterword: How might Jane Austen's fictional landowners have reacted to the challenges and opportunities that faced their real counterparts?
Appendix: Detailed information on the approach used to compare many original sources, brought together for the first time, to create a detailed picture of Edward Knight's wealth and business practices