Jane Austen is one of the most widely read novelists in English literature. She lived mainly in Hampshire, but had many reasons to visit the Canterbury area. Her brother Edward was adopted by Thomas Knight of Godmersham House (8 miles outside Canterbury towards Ashford), and her letters refer to visits she made there. After the death of Thomas Knight, his widow moved to the Whitefriars area of the city (now M&S) and Jane visited her there. When Edward married he moved to Goodnestone House (8 miles south-east from the city). Despite this, Jane’s direct links to Canterbury city are rather limited:
- According to the journal of the Jane Austen Society, the character Miss Bates (who appears in Emma as a simple old lady who is amiable but talks too much) is based on a Miss Milles who lived in the Cathedral precincts (now the Cathedral Visitor Centre – see Image).
- Jane mentions Canterbury occasionally in her letters but not always in a flattering tone – for example when the possibility of moving to Canterbury arises, she writes that she would prefer Southampton!
- She writes in 1813 of her visit to the newly built prison in Longport with brother Edward, a visiting magistrate.
- By chance Jane is loosely linked to the successful local author Richard Harris Barham as Barham’s first posting as a curate was to Westwell, a parish close to Godmersham where Edward lived.