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?
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.
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?