The Library & Women’s Writing
(Please use the links to the right for more information.)
Women’s Writing in English 1600 to 1830
The Chawton House Library main collection focuses on works written by women in English during the period 1600 to 1830. The Library holds early editions of works from the period; many of the books in the collection are rare and in some cases even unique (some of the Library’s rarest works are available in full-text via the Novels-On-Line project).
Writers whose work is held in the collection include Penelope Aubin, Aphra Behn, Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, Eliza Haywood, Charlotte Lennox, Hannah More, Sydney Owenson, Ann Radcliffe, Mary Robinson, Mary Shelley, Frances Sheridan, Charlotte Smith and Mary Wollstonecraft, and many more both well-known and lesser-known writers, as well as a significant number of anonymous works.
The main collection reveals the intricate and richly-woven texture of the literary marketplace in this period. While novels are a strength of the collection, the generic diversity of women’s writing is reflected in the holdings of poetry (by writers such as Anne Finch, Felicia Hemans, Lady Mary Montagu, Elizabeth Rowe and Mary Tighe), drama (by the likes of Frances Brooke, Hannah Cowley, Elizabeth Inchbald), published letters (including those of Hester Thrale and Elizabeth Carter), as well as memoirs and autobiographical writing by women such as Charlotte Charke, Mary Robinson and Germaine de Staël, and writing on a whole range of other subjects including history, travel, medicine, botany, cookery and much more. Women also, of course, played a vital part in debates upon female education in this period and the collection contains educational works, advice manuals and children’s literature by figures such as Anna Letitia Barbauld, Sarah Trimmer, Priscilla Wakefield and Barbara Hofland. The collection also holds works not necessarily written by women, but pertaining particularly to the lives and experience of women, such as female conduct manuals. Readers interested in any of the following topics would find their interests well served by the collection: eighteenth-century pre- or proto-feminism, poetry, education, romance fiction, sensibility and the sentimental novel, Gothic fiction, autobiography and the memoir, radicalism, conservatism and the 1790s, and Minerva Press writers.
The Library has a small collection of manuscript material, including two unpublished novels by unknown writers, several handwritten recipe books, a contemporary transcript of some of Mary Tighe’s poetry, and the original manuscript of a work by Jane Austen, a dramatic adaptation of Samuel Richardson’s novel Sir Charles Grandison.
There also is a selection of modern critical and reference material, in support of the main collection.
To search the collection online, use Heritage.
The Knight Collection
The library also houses the Knight Collection, which is the private library belonging to the Knight family, the owners of Chawton House for over 400 years. The Knight Collection was put together over generations, and books in this collection date from the early 1500s. The majority of the collection dates from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
At one time, this collection was owned by Jane Austen’s brother Edward, who was adopted into the Knight family, and as such it was a library known to and used by Jane Austen herself. There have been many changes to this collection since 1900 but it remains a fascinating example of a country house library. The collection is on loan to Chawton House Library from Richard Knight.
The collection was documented in catalogues: one dated from 1818, and the second 1901. The 1818 catalogue is of the Godmersham Park Library; Godmersham Park was Edward Austen Knight’s home in Kent. In 1901 Montagu Knight, Edward’s grandson, catalogued the integrated collections of Godmersham and Chawton House.
Godmersham Library Catalogue 1818