Wednesday 2nd December 2020 to Sunday 28th February 2021

Venue: Chawton House

Why do we write inside our books? Some motivations are practical, such as including a name to ensure a borrowed book is returned. Other inscriptions function as diary entries, recording the year or place of purchase. If a book is given as a gift, a message is often written inside. These notes can explain how the book was used or how the owner felt about it. By marking the pages, a specific moment in time is captured.

Edward Knight II chose Chawton House as his main residence, moving the Knight library to this room. Built up over generations, it forms an unofficial record of the family’s history. Through handwritten inscriptions in its volumes, we can trace their personal stories: of inheritance and marriage, travel and upheaval, boys’ and girls’ education, and familial bonds.

The display includes works from the Knight collection not previously exhibited, such as:

  • Edward Austen Knight’s holiday reading: Edward Austen purchased a cheap French translation of English novelist Clara Reeve’s popular gothic novel, The Old English Baron. The Knight family library contains a particularly large number of novels, a number by women writers. The inscription shows that this work was purchased during his Grand Tour, whilst visiting St. Petersburg (Knight collection, K.207)
  • Scribbles from the Austen Knight children: two volumes on display contain signatures and doodles by Edward Austen Knight’s children. One in particular, encapsulates a significant moment in the lives, and fortunes, of their family. Edward Austen Junior’s school book copy of Livy’s History of Rome shows the transition of the family’s name from Austen to Knight. In 1811 he signs his name E. Austen; the next year the family changed their name to Knight. His new name: Edward Knight Junior, is inscribed on the opposite page. (Knight Collection 9917; 9452)

  • Christmas at Chawton: Florence Knight’s notebook is displayed for the first time, showing her “List of flowers picked out of doors in Chawton Garden” on Christmas Day in 1907. A number can still be seen in our grounds today, including Christmas roses on the Library Terrace. (Knight Collection)

Flowers picked at Chawton, Christmas 1907. Florence Knight’s notebook

Included with price of admission