Tuesday, 29 January 2013


Jane Austen - cricket writer
Fantasy Bob has been joining the worldwide celebrations to mark this week's 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

FB's worldwide readership may wonder why he retains such a lasting affection for this novel which contains no cricketing scenes or references.  Nor does it refer at any point to empire biscuits. 

While the absence of empire biscuits is understandable, since they may not have been known in their present form at the time Jane Austen was writing, the absence of cricket from her works is harder to understand.  Some time ago FB claimed to have found a long lost manuscript of Jane Austen's which seemed to show her interest in cricket, but FB has to acknowledge that this has yet to be authenticated.

FB still feels that cricket should ring out from her work.  He is sure Austen had a passion for the game.  For Jane Austen was born in Steventon, Hampshire in 1775, and spent much of her life in the county at a time when Hampshire was the crucible of the development of cricket.  Hambledon was about 30 miles away, easily within a day’s coach ride.  It is hard to believe that some gentlemen of her acquaintance did not play and that she was unfamiliar with the game.  It would surely have frustrated her that there is little by way of cricket history in her family - none of her 6 brothers is reported to have played, although 2 of them became naval officers.  Her father, a clergyman appears not to have been a cricketer.  Yet cricketing must have been all around in Hampshire at that time.  There are reports of women playing too, so perhaps Jane Austen herself might have played.  the only reference in her work to cricket was to refer to the heroine of Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland preferring playing cricket to more lady-like pursuits and there are some suggestions by critics that Catherine's character was based on Austen herself.
Hampshire women at cricket in 1799
Perhaps Jane Austen suppressed her passion for cricket because during the Napoleonic Wars cricket was held in abeyance and Pride and Prejudice was probably written in 1811-12, years central to that struggle and in which only one first class match is recorded as taking place in each year. Yet this is not wholly convincing because Pride and Prejudice is a reworking of an earlier youthful work previously rejected for publication. First Impressions, the original title was written in 1797. And it is at this point that cricketers should sit up and take notice for 1797 happens to be the year in which the records mention for the first time Hampshire cricketer John Bennett, who was one of the most celebrated players of the age.
Benjamin Whitrow as Mr Bennet in the BBC adaptation
- based on a Hampshire cricketing family
John Bennett was born and lived in Kingsley - which is about 20 miles from Steventon. In all Bennett made 61 First Class appearances, a large number for those days. The archives report that he was a fast underarm bowler - very fast by report, (hand unknown), a left-handed batsman, a fine and free hitter and "an excellent field". His cousin James Bennett was also a player of some reputation.

It is obvious to FB that the exploits of the cricketing Bennetts came to the attention of Jane Austen and in tribute to them and in secret acknowledgement of her own passion for the game, she used the name for the family in Pride and Prejudice.   Why else would one of her favourite male characters be so named.

For there are no other cricketing names in the novel.  No contemporary cricketers were called Darcy, or Lucas or Collins, far less Wickham or Bingley.  Indeed apart from New Zealand opener John D'Arcy who played 5 tests in 1958, those names do not shine out of the pages of Wisden in the years since.

In contrast, several Bennetts who have played First Class cricket over the years, although only one has a Test cap - Kiwi paceman Hamish Bennett. This is immensely significant.  It clearly establishes that Pride and Prejudice is a cricketing novel and all the more wonderful for that.


  1. FB - this is fascinating because I'm a Bennett and James Bennett was my gxgxg grandfather! Also, I live in Bennet Close, Alton, Hants. I'm going to tell my father the information re Jane Austen and cricket. Where did you find the information re Jane Austen naming her characters Bennett to honour James and John Bennett? I'd love to know.

    Jo Clutton ne Bennett

    1. Jo - Many thanks - FB is putting 2 and 2 together to reach his hypothesis. There can be no other reason for Ms Austen's choice of name.

  2. Thanks FB - I look forward to it.