The Dancing Years
Coming from a respectable family associated with the church, Jane and her sister Cassandra occupied a social stratum bracketed as gentry.
The well-spoken girls enjoyed a busy round of dances and house visits, mingling with the higher echelons of local Georgian society in the great houses dotted throughout the rolling green countryside.
As well as spending time with the family friend Madam Lefroy, who lived at Ashe Rectory, we know that Jane and Cassandra came into contact with the infamous Boltons of Hackwood Park. (Jane dryly comments after meeting the illegitimate daughter of Lord Boltonin the Bath assembly rooms that she was ‘much improved with a wig’); She also visited the Hansons of Farleigh House; and the Dorchesters of Kempshott Park where Jane attended a New Year’s ball in 1800.
Jane Austen’s keen observation of the manners and morals of her extended social network was to give rise to her famous plot lines revolving around unsuitable suitors and social position - she started drafting Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey whilst living at the rectory.