Taking Tea with Jane Austen

Jane Austen's House in Chawton

Jane Austen’s House in Chawton

OK, that title’s not entirely accurate but bear with me. It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago and for a little treat, my very own Mr Darcy whisked me off to Hampshire to the house where Jane Austen lived for the last 8 years of her (short) life and where she wrote or revised all of her novels.

We were in Chawton, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go (bucket list, tick), at the house in which Austen’s rich brother allowed Jane, her sister Cassandra, their mother and a family friend to live, rent-free. (And just as well as they really had nowhere else to go).

There’s a lovely little tea room across the road from the house, where we enjoyed a cuppa after our visit (and we could still see Austen’s house through the window), so that was as close as I’m ever going to get to taking tea with Jane.

And here I am, channelling my inner Jane Austen, quill in hand. Do you like the 19th/21st century combo of bonnet and jeans?

janeausten1

I hadn’t actually thought about the mechanics of writing 200 years ago but of course, Ms Austen would have used quill and ink. She didn’t even have a pencil to write with, a desk to write on or a writing room of her own. She sat downstairs, near the front door, which was hardly used and a creaking swing door warned her if anyone was coming, so she could put away her small sheets of paper or cover them with a piece of blotting paper.

janeasutendesk

That’s the tiny table at which she wrote:

2017 is the 200th anniversary of Austen’s death and Hampshire Cultural Trust will be co-ordinating a year-long series of events across the county to celebrate their most famous daughter.

There’s a short story competition, for example, with a closing date of 28th Feb 2017 and a first prize of £1000. There’s a fee of £5 and you need to write a story of 2017 words or fewer, based on this quote from Mansfield Park: “Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure.”

When we got to our hotel, after visiting Chawton, I was delighted to see a Jane Austen ‘book bench’ in the lobby, part of Basingstoke’s ‘Sitting With Jane‘public art trail. Well, I had to try it out, didn’t I?

sitting-with-jane

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11 Responses to Taking Tea with Jane Austen

  1. Tracy Fells says:

    Lovely to hear about your visit to Chawton, Helen. When I lived in Reading we used to visit quite a lot but I haven’t been in years. Maybe during her anniversary – though expect it will be busy next year.

    • Thanks for your comment, Tracy. When you buy your ticket it lasts for a year, so I’m hoping I might sneak back again for another visit before next October, when I’m in that neck of the woods. Didn’t really spend much time in the garden and I’d have liked to have done that. It’s only small but on the website it says you’re welcome to take a picnic and sit in the garden with it and I rather fancy that!

  2. Hope to get there one day, Helen – lovely post, thank you.

    • Thanks, Kate. Yes, I really enjoyed it. Amazing to think of the great novels Austen wrote and revised there. They used to run writing workshops at the house, when they had a writer-in-residence and it would have been fabulous to have gone to one of those and actually written there too!

  3. Heather Walker says:

    I was there only last month. It’s a lovely house and yes I did quill on the paper too! Also visited the wonderful tea shop and the little church where Jane’s mother and sister are buried.

    • Helen Yendall says:

      Ooh, fancy that, Heather. Yes, we should have gone down to the church but we kind of ran out of time. I’ll do that on the next visit…! (did you have the lavender scones in the tea shop? Delicious!)

      • Heather Walker says:

        I had cake but I love Lavender flavoured shortbread so I can imagine the scones would have been lovely.

  4. pennywrite says:

    What a lovely treat! (Cherish that Mr. Darcy of yours.)

  5. juliathorley says:

    It’s lovely to visit writers’ homes. I always hope a little of their genius will rub off on me. I’m tempted by the competition. Thanks for for the info.

    • Helen Yendall says:

      Yes, I know what you mean about the genius rubbing off! I was also hoping I might catch a fleeting sight of an empire-line dress or petticoat, or little slipper, as I walked from room to room but sadly I saw nothing ‘other worldly’! Yes, the competition looks good, doesn’t it. I might try it too (but then I always say that I don’t usually get round to these things!)

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