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Going For (Austen) Gold Part Two

It took me until this year to read Jane Austen’s work and so, naturally, I had not been all that interested previously in seeing the house in which she’d wrote most of her novels.

A photo of the exterior of Jane Austen's house

Recently, having passed the half-way mark of reading (I’ve read Pride And Prejudice, Persuasion, and Sense And Sensibility) it suddenly became incredibly important that I visit Chawton as soon as possible. I decided that I should see Austen’s grave in Winchester, and find out about journeying to Chawton from there, but it turns out that like many places in the UK the bus service isn’t too great and unless you drive there yourself you’re possibly going to get stranded if you stay too long. So I went to Winchester on one day, and enlisted the assistance of a car on another for Chawton.

A photo of a plaque bearing Austen's reply to a letter

The day was beautiful, one of the most perfect days we’ve had here this year; few clouds, plenty of sun, and hot but not too hot. Maybe it was the weather but the village of Chawton is spectacular. Perhaps I went on a less-busy day but the village seems untouched by the mass of tourists that must visit from all over the world. The village is very small with few amenities, and the houses are amazingly cute – it may not represent the bigger picture of life in the country, but in all other aspects it’s English perfection.

A photo of Austen's hand-written music notation

Austen’s house resides at the entrance to the village, it’s the first house you pass as you come in. It’s also a lot bigger than many of the other houses and certainly although not the nicest looking it’s one of the more eye-catching. If it were modern you’d say it had been built to be that way. You enter first through the side gate in front of the bread house. The original front door of the house was bricked up years ago and so after a quick saunter through the gardens you enter through a door straight into the drawing room.

A photo of Austen's writing table

Something worth remembering – you’re allowed to take photographs inside. I took mine without the flash which I seem to remember was the only rule. I could have taken a myriad of pictures of all the rooms but something held me back, a mixture of looking like a tourist and that weird respect I talked about in the last entry. I felt that to take a few photographs of specific items was to honour Austen but that to capture the entire flavour of the place would be like walking on her grave.

A photo of the main upstairs hallway that has a mannequin wearing a dress at the end of it

The house may look rather large but the rooms are humble, even the hallways are only wide enough for one person to move through comfortably at a time – single file is required around the top floor and the only reason the ground floor is easier is because it’s mostly rooms and the one large vestibule. This brings into perspective just how lowly the family was; they may have had more money than some but it would never have brought them to the attention of say, a Mr Darcy.

A photo of a flower from the garden at the house

I was surprised to find that there was little of Austen’s writing to be found here but there was her hand-written music notation and one of Cassandra’s art works (which was beautifully painted). I was also surprised that so little furniture in the house had actually belonged to the family, besides from the table at which Austen had written a lot of her books. The notification said that the table had had to be brought back to the house and my mother said (I took my mother along for the visit – she’s not yet read Austen but enjoyed it all the same) that she couldn’t understand why a family would give away such an important possession. But as I told her, at that time it wouldn’t have seemed so important, as it never does when people clear away castles for newer buildings – somehow we never realise just how important things might be to future generations.

A photo of the side of the house

The kitchen is accessed via a door that is next to the one that leads into the drawing room, in other words you have to go outside again to reach the kitchen. How many servants the Austens would’ve had I can’t say, but I doubt it was more than two because there just wasn’t room unless the servants had lived elsewhere.

The garden is small but pretty and kept neat and tidy, there was possibly another garden too as there’s a gate leading to another space but it was closed and looking through it you can see something’s being constructed.

A photo of the graves of Cassandra and Mrs Austen

Apart from the house there is the church (where Cassandra and Mrs. Austen are buried), and a large library that was once the manor house of the village’s owner. I did not have time to go inside but the exterior is very grand and the land covers many acres.

A photo of the view from the entrance to the library which looks out over a long driveway

I had a brilliant time in Chawton and would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Austen, manor houses, or the countryside. For me it was a taste of England I’d never experienced.



July 18, 2010, 11:39 am

I am so jealous of you getting to visit Chawton. I can only imagine what it must feel like to visit the house where one of my favourite authors lived.

Charlie: I think where it was the house of someone I really admire, rather than someone I’m simply in awe of, it felt peculiar, more welcoming than distant. Though I had trouble imagining her there, it was a strange feeling.


July 19, 2010, 3:04 pm

Charlie, what a spectacular post! I’ve never visited Austen’s home, but I feel I’ve taken the virtual tour through your excellent photographs and commentary. I loved looking at so many things: the white dress, the wide plank flooring, the brick exterior, the little writing table behind the shield, and even her letter.

It makes me nostalgic for times past: the way that people lived, the eloquence with which they wrote. Every time I see an Austen film, on PBS for example, I just want to try living like that for awhile.

You’re doing such a good job of working your way through her novels! I’ve only read Pride and Prejudice myself, so it seems like a worthy task to take on. Thanks for the added incentive!

Charlie: Thanks :) I loved that letter, thought it was fantastic, so although a typed version might seem an odd thing to photograph I knew I had to share it. You mentioning the flooring – the base colour throughout was white, and although this was wallpaper added at a later date they’d peeled some of it away to reveal that what the Austen’s would have had was much the same.

I too wouldn’t mind living like that, it would be such a different experience!

Yes, it’s taking a while but I’m getting through them, if you’ve only read Pride And Prejudice I’d personally suggest leaving Sense And Sensibility until after you’ve read another (it takes a very long time to get going). I’ve found the compilation of her earlier (short) works good for when the others are daunting.



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