Blogging the research behind, and the first draft writing of my novel-in-progress, The Lost Letters of Lizzie Austen. I’m captivated by the Cheesedown farm, where Jane Austen — and her fictional sister Lizzie — were sent to be raised by Elizabeth Littleworth, wife of farmer John Littleworth, until they reached the “age of reason.” Mrs. Littleworth might not have been a wet nurse because in a letter Mrs. Austen says Jane was weaned at three months. So presumably the poor babes were fed some sort of animal milk or gruel from a spoon or cheesecloth. Mrs. Littleworth was paid to take care of the Austen babies until they grew out of that awkward stage. When exactly would that be, I wonder? When they were no longer in nappies? When they could walk and talk? Think of how the babies must have bonded to the foster mother, only to be torn away again when mother decided they were managable enough to come back to the rectory! Oh, it was a different world, was it not? And not just a world of fancy balls, furbelows and bonnets.
This week I am reading about the Cheesedown farm, near the Deane parish, about two miles from Steventon. And about Elizabeth and John Littleworth, who cared for the Austen children — perhaps all of them — for some period of time. (Poor George Austen never came back home. He was defective in some way. Intellectually challenged? Embarassingly different? Too much work? So sad they never wanted him back, though apparently the family provided for his upkeep. George, in fact, outlived most of the Austens. More on him, later…
Another Austen family outcast was Aunt Lenora. Why did they exclude her?
And so I write about Lizzie Austen — the bad sister — who was sent to the Littleworths to be looked after, and was quite forgotten. Lizzie, of little worth.
Yes, I write the dark side of Jane Austen. Thanks to Lesley Adkins for inspiring me! Stay tuned…
Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins.
Jane Austen; A Life by Claire Tomalin
Jane Austen’s Letters. Colledted and Edited by Deirdre Le Faye