This Christmas, my grandmother gave me a very cool present: a copy of The Cottage in the Chalk-Pit by Alicia Catherine Mant.
The Cottage in the Chalk-Pit was first published in London in 1822 (under the name Catherine Alicia Mant) by Harvey and Darton on Gracechurch Street. Basically a morality tale for Regency children, it is the story of a rich middle-class family that loses its fortune and how each of the four children conquers their vices to become industrious, responsible mini-adults before their father’s wealth is restored. While a little heavy-handed in morals, Alicia Catherine Mant does a good job of portraying engaging, lovable characters and contriving interesting circumstances in which they can learn their lessons.
The book isn’t just cool because it’s old, though. It turns out that Alicia Catherine Mant is the sister to my great-something-grandfather, Bishop Richard Mant. As if being the descendant of a novelist (a female novelist in pre-Victorian England!) isn’t awesome enough, there’s more: Alicia and Richard grew up in Southampton as the children of Reverend Richard Mant, rector of All Saints. When Jane Austen moved to Southampton to live with her brother Frank, she attended the All Saints church with Mant as her reverend, as mentioned in some of her letters.
Though Jane Austen died several years before The Cottage in the Chalk-Pit was published, I like to think that she and Alicia sat around tea discussing characters, plot-lines, and the woes of getting one’s stories printed just as my friends and I do now (only we substitute the tea with chocolate). In any case, I hope that talent is an inheritable trait.