Silhouettes of Reverend and Mrs AustenText by Janet Johnstone, former Volunteer Stewards Manager at Jane Austen’s House
These silhouettes have been passed down through the Austen family. They have been on loan to the Museum since 1951. Jane Austen’s parents both came from equally prosperous families though neither of them had a surplus of money themselves. Mrs. Austen was related to The Duke of Chandos and was descended from the Leighs of Stoneleigh Abbey Warwickshire. Reverend Austen originated from Kent and because of his father’s early death he was dependent for the Living of Steventon on a rich cousin Thomas Knight. Mrs. Austen’s brother James Leigh Perrot excluded her from his will. Unlucky in legacies she seems to have been lucky in love and Jane’s parents seemed happy with each other and their family.
Reverend Austen was a very loving supportive father. When Jane had completed First Impressions (later renamed as Pride and Prejudice) he sent it to the Publisher Cadell asking him if he would like the book to read with a view to publication at the author’s cost, in fact he meant at his own expense. Sadly Cadell refused. Reverend Austen had a very good Library of five hundred books at Steventon, part of Jane’s early education came from being allowed to read any she chose. Jane’s father also was an excellent reader of novels and poetry. Reading aloud was a very popular pass time. When Jane’s father was Proctor at St John’s College Oxford he was in charge of discipline among the undergraduates and was known as the handsome Proctor.
Mrs. Austen was a very practical person and worked effectively running the domestic side of Reverend Austen’s School which educated the boys of local gentry, as well as her own family. She was very talented at writing entertaining verse. The one I particularly like is a recipe for a cake for a vicar, all written in verse. Mrs. Austen was very proud of her family background and always felt she had a very aristocratic nose which is well highlighted in her silhouette.