Thursday, August 26, 2010

Wistful -- Searching for Jane Austen Pt.2

A year ago July, I was in the south of England with my mother and we visited Jane Austen's cottage in Chawton.

Chawton Village is just outside of Winchester and so worth the 28 minute drive. It still is a village with thatch roofed cottages, single lane roads and on the cloudy morning we arrived, it was still sleepy and quiet. There on the corner is the cottage without ceremony or distinction. There are no gates and no monuments. Even if you didn't know this was her home, Jane is everywhere. Suddenly, you know what Barton cottage looked like for Marianne and Elinor. You see the fields where Lizzy rambled to Netherfield Park to rescue Jane. It's all there and so are you.

Jane Austen didn't write for 10 years. Her father had died. She was suddenly, in the despair, came a cottage given to her mother, herself, Cassandra and a friend by Edward, her brother. Suddenly, in this peaceful place, she could sit at the window, watch the traffic, the passersby, the fields across the way.

There are still original pieces of furniture in the main room, most especially her writing desk at the window, 1st edition Austens in the secretary desk and some of Jane's own personal reading collection.
I've always thought of Jane being alone because she never married. It always filled me with a kind of sadness at her solitude. How wrong I was. In this little cottage are rooms made up for all her brothers and nieces and nephews. The life and the love shared in that cottage is still palpable -- the family is imprinted in its spirit. Jane was adored.

The gardens at the cottage
The most powerful moment of the visit was reading a letter they have in a case from Cassandra to their niece Fanny detailing Jane's last hours. It's impossible to relay the intimacy of the experience, standing where they stood, knowing what the two experienced together. Theirs is the true story of love and loyalty. Maybe she didn't have Darcy but she had Cassandra and once Jane was gone, Cassandra carried on alone in Chawton on the 800 pounds Jane left her in her will. She opened a school and taught there for many years.
Across the street from the Austen house is the Greyfriars tea house .
Flowers at Greyfriars
The field across the street from the Austen Cottage

If you enjoyed this post you might enjoy a former post: Searching for Jane Austen pt.1


Former Post: Looking for John Keats in Hampstead:


  1. Oh man. What an amazing experience. Just, amazing.

  2. I'm so glad you posted this! I'm totally back on a Jane Austen kick right now! Somehow... I had NEVER read Persuasion or Northanger Abbey... so I've now read those and am rereading pride & prejudice! I heart Jane! :)

  3. Oh Elizabeth -- Yay!!!! We all heart Jane!!