I am now alone in the Library, Mistress of all I survey.Jane Austen Letter, 23-24 September 1813, Godmersham Park, Kent
There are several books found in the Chawton House Library that came from the Godmersham Park library, so there is a good chance that Jane read some of them during her long stays at her brother’s estate.
One book that we know Jane read is Self Control by the Scottish novelist Mary Bruton published in 1811, as she wrote of it in a letter.
I am looking over Self Control again, & my opinion is confirmed of its’ being an excellently-meant, elegantly-written Work, without anything of Nature or Probability in it.
Mary’s story is one Jane could have written about. She was 20 years old when she fell in love with the Reverend Alexander Brunton, tutor to her younger brothers. The family did not approve of the match, so Mary and Alexander eloped by boat to the mainland where they married. The couple later moved to Edinburgh when Alexander became minister at the New Greyfriars Kirk, and later at the Tron Kirk.
The copy that Jane read was in the Godmersham Park library at the time. Jane spent much time in the library writing and reading and commented on its size to Cassandra.
I am all alone. Edward is gone into his Woods. -At this present time I have five Tables, Eight & twenty Chairs & two fires all to myself.Jane Austen Letter, 3 November 1813, Godmersham Park, Kent
Combining the Godmersham and Chawton Library
After the death of Edward Austen Knight in 1852 and before the eventual sale of Godmersham Park in 1874, Edward Knight junior moved the books to the library at his Hampshire estate, Chawton House, where they were combined with the books in his own collection.
After Edward junior’s son Montagu George Knight inherited Chawton House in 1879, he had hand-made shelf tickets attached to the books, indicating their positions on the library shelves. In 1900, he also began affixing his bookplates, of which he had three, to many of the volumes, thus helping us to identify them today.
After the death of Montagu George Knight in 1914, the library was gradually dispersed by succeeding generations.
Many of the books listed in the 1818 catalogue are missing in a new catalogue compiled in 1908. Some fifty items were dispersed at a Sotheby’s auction of 9 July 1935, and further volumes were sold piecemeal in the latter part of the twentieth century. Nonetheless, well over a third of the works listed in the catalogue, about five hundred titles in all, are extant in the present-day Knight Collection, on loan to Chawton House Library from their owner Richard Knight, the great-great-great-grandson of Jane Austen’s brother Edward Austen Knight.
The Digital Collection
The Library of Godmersham Park, the estate of Jane Austen’s brother Edward Austen Knight, has combined with Chawton House Library and has been digitally recorded.
You can explore the shelves to see the books as Jane would have seen them, and read the works she would have handled – to skim or peruse, to discuss or borrow – on her visits to her brother Edward and his eleven children.
You can find the entire Godermsham and Chawton House Library books on the Reading with Jane website.
Read more about Jane’s visits to her brother Edward’s estate at Godmersham Park
Find out more about Jane and her clergymen in Jane Austen’s Prayers
Read more about Mary Bruton and her novel Self Control on Wikipedia
Read the novel Self Control on the Internet Archive website.