For more than twenty years, I chose not to tell my colleagues or friends that I am Jane Austen's fifth great-niece and the last descendant of the Austen family to grow up in Chawton House, the ancestral home of the Knight family for four centuries and fifteen generations. But in 2013, the widely celebrated bicentennial of the publishing of Pride and Prejudice started a chain of events in my life that would take me back to my roots and reunite me with my 'very great' great aunt, Jane Austen. Caroline Jane Knight shares more than Jane Austen's name and DNA. As a direct descendant of Jane's brother, Edward Knight, Caroline is the last of the Austen Knight family to grow up at Chawton House on the estate where Jane Austen lived and enjoyed the most productive period of her writing career. Caroline explored the same places around Chawton House and its grounds as Jane did, dined at the same table in the same dining room, read in the same library and shared the same dream of independence. Caroline's early life was filled with the delights of living in a sixteenth-century English manor, the good cheer of family gatherings and centuries-old Christmas traditions in the Great Hall of Chawton House, the beauty of a country life, and the joys of helping her Granny bake cakes and serve Jane Austen devotees in the Chawton House tea room. But when she was seventeen, Caroline and her family were forced to leave the home her family had lived in for centuries. Heartbroken, but determined to leave all things Austen behind her, Caroline eventually carved out a highly successful career in business.
This is the story of Caroline's tumultuous journey to success, her ultimate crisis, her rediscovery and embrace of her Austen heritage, and the creation of the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation.