herald

Monday 20 November 2017

Revealed ... Jane Austen's Irish roots

SHE is one of the most famous novelists of all time, but Jane Austen's links to Ireland have remained unknown-- until now.

Three nieces of the world renowned writer are all buried in the country after living lives that could well have come from their aunt's novels.

Marianne, Louisa and Cassandra Knight were daughters of Jane Austen's brother Edward. The girls were extremely close to their famous aunt and remained her closest companions during the last 16 years of her life.

Now, a new book has revealed how the three lived lives curiously like those depicted in Austen's novels -- with all three finding themselves living in Co Donegal, where they are now buried.

The novelist was enchanted by her nieces and spent a great deal of time with them until her death in 1817. The three are mentioned repeatedly in Austen's letters and she often took them to the theatre, and spent time reading and sewed with them. The three would also battle with their aunt about her novels with Cass desperate for her to change the ending of Mansfield Park to allow Mr Crawford to marry Fanny Price.

How the sisters ended up in Donegal during Famine times reads like an Austen novel.

Cassandra had been set to marry Lord George Hill, when his mother Lady Downshire of the Hillsboroughs forbade the match.

However, when Cass was set to marry another man eight years later she was persuaded not to. Lord Hill's mother subsequently relented and Lord George returned for Cass. "This is like Persuasion or like Pride And Prejudice," said academic Sophia Hillan, who has penned a book on the sisters -- May, Lou and Cass: Jane Austen's Nieces In Ireland.

ccrawford@herald.ie

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