“At half past six, in the bleak, icy evening of 21 January, in the year of 1804, Anne Sharp arrived in the threshold of Godmersham Park.”

Opening lines of Godmersham Park (2022)

In her latest novel, Godmersham Park, writer Gill Hornby tells the story of Anne Sharp, a young woman forced by circumstance to take up the role of governess to Edward Austen’s daughter Fanny, at his main residence – Godmersham Park, in Kent. Anne Sharp was a real person, and it was at Godmersham Park that she met Jane Austen. The two recognised each other as intellectual equals with a shared love of literature. “My dearest Anne”, became Austen’s life-long correspondent: and it was to Anne that she addressed her final letter sent from Chawton, before she died in 1817.

Gill Hornby’s well-researched novel draws from works in Chawton House’s collection to tell Anne Sharp’s story. Our Library display showcases them for the first time.

Meet Anne Sharp: The Governess with a Literary Soul

Godmersham Park transports us back to the early 19th century, where we encounter Anne Sharp, a young woman who finds herself in the role of governess to Fanny, the daughter of Edward Austen, at his fine Palladian mansion, Godmersham Park in Kent. Anne’s circumstances have forced her into a position that was all too common for women of her time. Yet, it was in this very place that she would cross paths with a literary genius, Jane Austen.

Illustration of Godmersham Park Library Jessica Irene Joyce Watercolour on paper, 2018

A Meeting of Minds: The Austen-Sharp Connection

When Jane Austen and Anne Sharp met at Godmersham Park, a profound bond formed between them. Both women recognized each other as intellectual equals, sharing a love of literature and the written word. Austen affectionately referred to Anne as “My dearest Anne” and this marked the beginning of their lifelong correspondence.

As Jane Austen’s friend and correspondent, Anne Sharp held a significant place in the author’s life. In fact, it was to Anne that Jane addressed her final letter from Chawton, shortly before her passing in 1817. Their friendship was built on mutual admiration, respect, and shared literary pursuits, making it a remarkable connection that endured the test of time.

Pictured: Chawton House acquires a copy of Jane Austen’s novel Emma once belonging to Anne Sharp.

Gill Hornby’s novel: Anne Sharp’s Story

In her novel, Godmersham Park, Gill Hornby skilfully weaves together historical facts and creative storytelling to paint a vivid picture of Anne Sharp’s life. Drawing from extensive research and a deep understanding of the era, Hornby brings Anne’s character to life, shedding light on the challenges and triumphs she faced as a governess and a passionate advocate for female education.

The Library Display at Chawton House: Unveiling Literary Treasures

To complement Gill Hornby’s novel Godmersham Park, we have curated a special library display. This exhibit showcases a collection of works that played a pivotal role in Anne Sharp and Jane Austen’s friendship.

One of the remarkable items on display is William Cowper’s “The Task,” a popular work of its time that undoubtedly held inspiration for the literary discussions between Anne and Jane. Additionally, it is the very copy that once graced the shelves of the family library at Godmersham Park. Also on display is the Knight family cookbook from 1793, open at the recipe for “Snail-Milk”, which is offered as a cure for Anne Sharp’s headache by Mrs Cassandra Austen. ‘Grandmother Austen’s’ recommendation for snail milk is based on this original recipe, which calls for ‘30 Snails pick’d & Scour’d’. These objects offer a tangible glimpse into the world that Anne Sharp and Jane Austen inhabited, underscoring their shared passion for literature and intellectual pursuits.

Cowper’s poetical works. This copy was part of the Godmersham Park’s library collection when Jane Austen visited.

Our Godmersham Park Library display is included in admission price. It is on display until the autumn. Book your tickets to visit Chawton House.