Saturday, October 12, 2013

Jane Austen festival Day 6

Jane Austen festival Day 6
A Jane Austen Pilgrimage

We drove out to the country via Salisbury Plain. We saw a white chalk horse on the cliff. This one only dates to 1800 or so but Jane Austen would have seen it on her journey to Bath. We passed by bronze age hill forts and iron age burial mounds. They were simply amazing! 

At last we made it to Hampshire. We approached Steventon the village where Jane Austen was born and passed by the spot where her family’s rectory was. Her brother had it torn down in the 1820s. It was very old. The well still stands with a danger sign. Then we drove up the road to St. Nicholas Church where Jane’s father was Rector. Then a couple in Regency dress stepped out! It was almost like a wedding or a movie!  The 12th century church was very cold and damp. I can’t imagine sitting there every Sunday. It had memorial plaques to Jane Austen’s nephew and his descendants and other local families. They had some Jane Austen bookmarks and notecards for sale for a small donation to the church.

We walked down the road to see the spot where the house was. The ladies’ skirts were dragging on the ground and the lady who had come out of the church said the other night when it was raining, her petticoat really was 6 inches deep in mud!

The cars picked us up there and on to Chawton. I made the mistake of stopping for the introductory video. It didn’t tell me anything new. In case you don't know... when Jane Austen’s father died, he left the women virtually penniless. They were dependant on Jane’s brothers for income until finally, her second oldest brother Edward found them a cottage on one of his properties. He had been adopted by a wealthy family and inherited two estates. The bailiff’s cottage was renovated and in 1809 Jane, her sister Cassandra, their mother and their spinster friend Martha Lloyd moved in. Here Jane revised Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and the manuscript she called Susan (Northanger Abbey). She wrote Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion at her desk here. Supposedly there was a creaky door joint so she could put away her writing whenever she heard anyone coming but the story seems silly because it was an open secret that she was a writer. Jane loved being back in the country where she could walk around as her health permitted.
The cottage is tiny. It didn’t take long to go through it. Downstairs is a drawing room,  dining room, a reading room . In the vestibule there are prints of illustrations from the novels, portraits of the family members and in closed drawers you can see the topaz crosses Jane’s brother Charles brought back for his sisters and a lock of Jane’s hair, faded from it’s original auburn color. I had seen photos of them and it’s hard to believe I was seeing them in real life. The pictures don’t do justice to the beautiful crosses. Jane and Cassandra must have valued such exquisite gifts from their beloved brother. There’s a bedroom scene behind glass with a patchwork quilt made by Jane, Cassandra and their mother. Upstairs are several themed rooms with artifacts belonging to the family. There’s Jane and Cassandra’s bedroom (they always shared) with a replica bed similar to the ones made for Jane and Cassandra when they lived at Steventon. They have original watercolors by Cassandra and her sampler too. In the Austen Family Room there are toys and games that belonged to the family. I skimmed the Admirals’ Room not being much interested in Charles. There are a lot of reproduction dresses throughout the house and Anne Hathaway’s dress from Becoming Jane.

  I went out to check out the kitchen in a separate building. It’s set up as if someone has just left off cooking. You can make a lavender sachet to take home. The bakehouse in another building and is not set up as if someone still lives there. It houses Jane Austen’s donkey cart she rode in when she was ill. By this time it was pouring so I didn’t get to stroll the gardens or even walk down to the Manor House.

We drove down to the church to see where the two Cassandras are buried. 

Then last stop Winchester. They had a small panel exhibit on Jane Austen and we paid our respects in front of Jane’s grave and memorial window. 

Then I wandered off and while everyone else went in the crypt I finally got to go to a library. I saw the Winchester Bible which dates to the 12th century. This was really cool to see in real life. I took History of Books and Printing and it was awesome to actually see what I had studied. No pictures allowed. They also have a bunch of printed books made in the Cathedral. 

The Cathedral sells some pretty Jane Austen watercolor notecards that I hadn’t realized were done at the Cathedral and benefited the Cathedral choir or something like that. Jane Austen loved music and I think she would like that. 

Finally, to the house where Jane Austen died. It’s a private home but the guide read about her final hours from a biography while we stood in the pouring rain. It was a sad end to the day. They usually do the tour backwards so it’s not so sad.

As soon as we left Hampshire it stopped raining. We stopped at Beechan Cliff in the sunshine to admire the view once again.

This was my last day in England. I was so pleased to have been able to visit Jane Austen's home and see things I had read about and seen in photos. I really wanted to visit Chawton House, a rare books library and center for research on early women writers in English. There wasn't enough time and our guide was unaware that it was open for tours. I was also suffering from a miserable cold and was exhausted and wanted to go back to bed. My poor health ruined some of my enjoyment of what should have been an amazing day. I shall simply have to go back. I recommend visiting Chawton Cottage in the middle of the afternoon when it's less crowded and on a sunny day when you can stroll in the garden and walk along the country path as Jane would have done. It would make the perfect addition to a Jane Austen pilgrimage. 

I visited a few other spots of interest in Bath which I will write about in a separate post. I was so sad to have to leave. I enjoyed my trip very much and long to return to England when I can stay longer. 

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