Thursday, June 27, 2013

Chawton today ~ a Walk in Jane Austen's village

by M.M. Bennetts


Walking up to the 'Big House'
Although she didn't settle in the village of Chawton in Hampshire until 7 July 1809, it's now one of the places we most associate with Jane Austen.

It's there that the cottage she lived in with her mother and sister Cassandra is found, and can be visited...and it's there that she wrote and rewrote during the most productive years of her short life.

As probably everyone knows, the Austen family had been living mostly in Bath and roundabout for a number of years, since 1800--though Jane, rather like her heroine Anne Eliot of Persuasion, did not like it there. Thus when her brother Edward offered the family the use of the small 17th century cottage in Chawton that was his as owner of the 'big house' in the village, Chawton House, it was a welcome change.
Chawton House, owned by Austen's brother Edward
Between moving to the cottage in Chawton in 1809 and her death in July 1817, Austen wrote or revised the novels which would change the face of fiction forever.

Though Austen's niece described the family's life there thusly, "It was a very quiet life, according to our ideas, but they were great readers, and besides the housekeeping our aunts occupied themselves in working with the poor and in teaching some girl or boy to read or write..." I think it's fair to say that while Austen's life may have appeared quiet, her imagination and her pen were busier than ever.

Starting with the publication of Sense and Sensibility in October 1811, she went on to publish Pride and Prejudice in January 1813, which was followed by Mansfield Park in May 1814, Emma in December 1815.  (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published posthumously in December 1817...)

It's been 200 years since Austen published Pride and Prejudice from that most modest address and to celebrate, earlier this month, the village of Chawton opened their gardens to visitors, and Chawton House besides opening their gardens, also brought the a company of Regency dancers to perform in the grounds as well as to teach some of the dances to visitors.



Into the church yard






Over the past few years, a great deal of work has been done on the Chawton property to open more of it to the public and to provide an education centre as well.  

Among other things, the garden has been carefully planted with flowers and shrubs that were available at the time of Austen's living there, rather than with modern cultivars and the effect is wondrous.  


Austen's garden
The church 

Walking the still-quiet lanes, peering into the beautifully kept gardens, observing the dancing at the big house, all of this is part of the life that Austen would have known when she resided there...so many of the cottages might easily have belonged to Miss Bates or housed the school where Miss Smith had grown up, don't you think?


The view from Austen's front door



Austen's garden

So please, take a moment to walk with her and see what she might have seen, to hear the distant bleating of lambs, and smell the scents of roses, pinks and rich earth as she did in those heady weeks after the publication of her most famous novel, when she had no idea how famous she would become, nor how many of us would make the pilgrimage to this tiny village in northeast Hampshire.

For a virtual tour of Austen's Chawton home/museum today, please click here. 

~~~~~~~~~~~
M.M. Bennetts is a specialist in early 19th century British and European history and the Napoleonic wars and is the author of two novels, May 1812 and Of Honest Fame set during the period.  A third novel, Or Fear of Peace, is due out in 2014.

For further information, please visit the website and historical blog at www.mmbennetts.com

3 comments:

  1. Such a lovely place to write. Nice article.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Lovely pictures, and I enjoyed the historical insights. It would be wonderful to walk around the area and envision her life there. (Although, I do have a hard time thinking of Chawton House as only a "cottage".)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Loved the article! It quite swept me away!

    ReplyDelete