Ah, yes, I Remember It Well…

July 4, 2008 at 9:26 am (introduction) (, )

On Tuesday, with our JASNA chapter’s radio engagement in mind (Vermont Edition, on Vermont Public Radio; see ‘the author’ for a link to the online broadcast), thoughts came tumbling about my first inklings that Mary Gosling had some connection to Jane Austen. The connection induced me to join JASNA, the Jane Austen Society of North America, in September 2006.

* * *

The place: Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia.
The time: June, 2006

I was seated at a microfilm reader, looking at the earliest diary – 1829 – written by Lady Smith of Stapleford Tawney (the title her diaries were given by the series WOMEN’S LANGUAGE AND EXPERIENCE). From second one, on seeing the handwriting and spying a couple family names, I knew my hunch had been right: Mary Gosling and Lady Smith were indeed the same person. Not only was Mary now identified by more than just a name, I instantly had seven more of her diaries.

Mary Gosling’s earliest recorded diary entry dates from 1814; the last trip she kept in this same travel journal took place in 1824. Two years later, in 1826, she married Emma’s brother Charles. On cementing the two Marys together, Mary Gosling suddenly went from an anonymous early 19th-century traveller to a woman with an entire life.

So, while sitting at that reader, the roll of film slowly rotating through that first year, I plucked out pieces of her life. Took a note here; printed a page there…. Then I came across this little passage. Keep in mind I had only just established the connection between married and unmarried Mary; I knew nothing of Charles’ family, never mind that he was one of nine children:


Emma’s baby was christened at Tring church by Mr Austen, “Cholmeley”  Mr Knight, Charles, and Mrs Leigh Perrot were the Godfathers & Godmother [6 Nov 1829]

There was something very familiar about these names… Austen…Cholmeley…Mr Knight…Mrs Leigh Perrot. So imagine my complete surprise when I pieced together Charles’ family, locating sibling after sibling (all those sisters…) only to find that he had a sister, Emma, who had married Jane Austen’s nephew! It was later still that I located Emma’s diaries (and those of Edward as well) at the Hampshire Record Office. I spent two months in Winchester last summer (mid-May to mid-July) with these diaries, and the family letters.

The Smiths were early readers of Austen’s novels; for several letters mention their thoughts on the likes of Mr Collins. Now, if only I could prove the girls met Jane Austen…

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