BOOK REVIEWS     George Justice, Editor


Making a Gentleman

Jane Austen’s Brother Abroad:
The Grand Tour Journals of
Edward Austen

Edited by Jon Spence.
Jane Austen Society of Australia, 2005.
xiii + 134 pages.
12 B/W and Color illustrations. Paperback.
$32.00.

Reviewed by Miriam L. Wallace.

Jon Spence and the Jane Austen Society of Australia have given us a visually pleasing, compact edition of what remains of Edward Austen Knight’s travel journals. The book contains Edward’s 1786 journal of his month-long tour of Switzerland and his 1790 “Journey through Italy, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands: June-July 1790.” Increasingly, approaches to Jane Austen’s life and works have sought to expand the famously local “bit of ivory, two inches wide,” noting the importance of West Indian plantations in Mansfield Park and the recognition of the changing significance of landed wealth and professions such as the Navy in Persuasion. Edward Austen’s account of his travels contributes differently to expanding our sense of the world that his sister knew or knew of. Despite his sister’s letters to him, Edward has remained a shadowy figure, a problem Spence hopes these travel journals begin to address. Describing the two works contained in this edition, Spence notes that while the 1786 journal was written retrospectively from notes and intended to be read by his family back in England, the 1790 journal was written as Edward traveled and probably was not intended for others. For the reader, the most striking difference is that the 1790 journal incorporates a great deal of historical and commercial information, while the 1786 is more personal and immediate.

Austenites will find fodder for interesting comparisons of Edward’s account of picturesque scenes and romantic views with scenes from his sister’s novels, such as that in Northanger Abbey in which Henry Tilney instructs Catherine Moreland on the finer points of the picturesque or in Edward’s accounts of his extensive walking tours and the robust walks of the Bennet sisters and Marianne Dashwood. Students of the later eighteenth century will find this addition to the literature of travel intriguing as well.

Beginning in the late seventeenth century, gentlemen were expected to have made the “Grand Tour,” usually through Paris, Florence, Venice, and Rome. The eighteenth-century Grand Tour was relatively scripted—visits to particular cities, viewing important art, presentations at particular courts, and a certain amount of dissipation were expected. Edward’s travels are in some ways more similar to “Romantic” tours: he does not travel through Paris, concentrating rather on Switzerland in 1786, and tracing his route through Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland in 1790 bypassing the Grand Tour cities. He is as interested in admiring the landscape of mountains and waterfalls as in seeing important buildings and paintings, and appears generally restrained in his foreign experiences (though there are intriguing hints in 1786 of an interest in pretty women, and a cryptic reference in 1790 to “understocked” brothels in Amsterdam). As Spence notes of the 1786 journal, “The Alpine trek was still comparatively new for English travellers, who only began to be attracted to the dramatic grandeur of nature in Switzerland when the rise of Romanticism…made such sights popular.” Moreover, Edward’s 1790 interest in the local economy—where the soil is fertile, where farms are well managed or neglected—echoes other late eighteenth-century travelers, in particular Arthur Young’s A Tour in Ireland 1776- 1779 (1780), and Travels in France During the Years 1787, 1788, 1789 (1792). Young is usually credited with creating a kind of economic tourism, comparing the agricultural and economic significance of different municipalities. This edition of Edward Austen’s journals suggests that a fruitful comparison might be made, though Austen’s journals are much briefer.

This attractive book is of a size to travel, and would be particularly entertaining reading while tracing some of the same routes Edward travels. Spence’s Introduction is directed to a general audience deeply interested in Jane Austen’s personal life and family. In a scholarly edition, one would want a more extensive exploration of the work’s significance, the context of travel journals and educational tours in which this participates, and perhaps a stronger sense of what makes this journal worthy of reproduction beyond the author’s relationship to a famous writer. This edition is particularly helpful, however, in the inclusion of several maps, Edward’s itineraries, a portrait of him as the well-traveled gentleman, and selected facsimile excerpts of the journals. Aftermatter includes biographical notes on persons mentioned in the journals and a bibliography, though more direction for further reading of primary and secondary works would be welcome. The endpapers of this softback book are rather charming reproductions of enlarged sections from the written journals, giving a feel for Edward’s orthography. The 1790 journal includes marginal notes written on the backs of the pages, cleverly indicated in this edition by inset paragraphs with the small icon of a pointing figure in trousers and top hat, thus preserving the feeling of an addition or marginal notation added later. Certainly in making these two travel journals accessible and available, the editor and his publisher have done a service not only to the world of Austenophilia, but to the growing body of work on the Grand Tour and gentlemanly education.


Miriam L. Wallace is Associate Professor of British and American Literature at New College of Florida. She writes on British fiction and travel narratives of the 1790s and edited The Memoirs of Emma Courtney (1796) and Adeline Mowbray, or the Mother and the Daughter (1804) together in one volume with College Publishing.

JASNA News v.21, no. 3, Winter 2005, p. 24

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