Thinking about Jane Austen’s Transatlantic Sister: Ideas for Reflection and Discussion
Fanny Austen grew up in Bermuda as the colonial daughter of an expatriate British official. She became the naval wife of Captain Charles Austen and managed a peripatetic household on both sides of the Atlantic during the turbulent years of the Napoleonic Wars. What were the greatest difficulties she faced in this role? What were her coping strategies? Were they effective? How different was her life from the life of a typical woman of the English gentry?
At a time when letter writing was the major source of communication with family, friends and business associates, what does Fanny’s correspondence with her family tell you about them and her relationships with them? To what extent does Fanny depend on letters for her support and well being?
Fanny’s letters to her siblings span four years. What differences do you see between her earlier letters (1810) and her later letters (1812-14)? What do the differences tell you about Fanny’s changing attitudes and perspectives on life?
Choose one of Fanny’s letters which strikes you as particularly revelatory of her personality and character? What does it suggest to you about the sort of person Fanny was?
We know that Fanny spent time in Jane’s company during visits among the Austen family. In fact, Jane wrote in some detail about a mutual visit to her brother Edward Knight’s Godmersham estate in October 1813 when the other primary guests were Charles, Fanny and two of their children. See JATS, 131-138. What strikes you about Jane’s interaction with Fanny and her family? If you and Jane Austen ended up at the same house party, what would you like to talk to her about?
Jane Austen’s fictional females can be characterized as belonging to or aspiring to become part of one or more communities. To what communities could Fanny Austen be said to belong, and how does Fanny serve other members of those communities? To what extent does she appear to be dependent on her community connections? Do her experiences shed light on the situations of Austen characters with which you are familiar?
Charles and Fanny Austen furnished Jane Austen with an unusual example of a naval captain and his wife’s experiences on several naval stations. How might their experiences contribute to Austen’s portrayal of the lives of naval couples in Persuasion?