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This morning, while eating my toast and marmalade, I heard this entertaining Audio Boo clip ,which was part of BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House programme.
Written by the witty Sue Limb and performed by Timothy West,it is a three-minute long letter, giving us Mr Bennet’s perspective on 200 years of Pride and Prejudice, Austen mania ( and the never-ending related retail opportunities that seem to follow ) plus the effects of being married to Mrs Bennet for two centuries…..Go here to listen.
Tomorrow is the start of the celebrations.I will be posting here and all over the world celebrations will be taking place. A readathon of the novel will be taking place at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath ( though do note that there will also be one at Jane Austen’s House in Chawton on the 17th May, which I will be attending)… the excitement mounts…..here we go…
This week’s edition of BBC2’s The Culture Show, presented by the delicious Andrew Graham-Dixon, has a wonderful, small section( just over 5 minutes long) presented by Professor John. Filmed on location at Chawton House on a very snowy day, he talks about Pride and Prejudice and the different adaptations that have been made of the novel – all nine of them- and it is a thoughtful, sensible essay, pointing out that the adaptations, in the main, reflect the times in which they were made.
The whole episode of The Culture Show is available to watch via the BBC iPlayer for the next seven days (and sadly this will only be available to this of you in the UK) here, but… hurrah and huzzah… the BBC has provided a clip of the entire essay on Pride and Prejudice from the programme which can be accessed by everyone ( or so I assume) via this link on their website here , Our Love Affair with Pride and Prejudice. I do hope you will watch it and enjoy it.
This will be my last post this year, and I thought it rather appropriate to pay a quick visit St Nicholas’ Parish Church, Chawton.
Chawton village has many treasures…The Jane Austen House Museum, the Chawton House Library, once the home of her lucky brother, Edward Knight and to various other members of her family, and the parish church, which though terribly altered since Jane worshipped there, does retain the memorials to her mother and her sister who are buried in its graveyard.
This post is not meant to be an exhaustive history of the church and its memorials( l hope to come back to it next year, perhaps) but I thought you might like to see the final resting place of Mrs. Austen and Cassandra, Jane Austen’s most beloved elder sister.
The church is about half a mile from Jane Austen’s House, set along the drive to Chawton House itself, just off what once was the Gosport Road. Jane Austen would have passed it every time she went to visit her relatives there, and of course it was in this church that she worshipped while she was resident in Chawton.
it is believed that a church has stood on the site of the present parish church since at least 1270. However a disastrous fire in 1871 effectively destroyed the whole building except for the chancel so that the present nave, north aisle, vestry and tower date only from around the rebuilding that took place between 1872 to 1873.
Luckily, many of the early memorials were saved and are still displayed on the walls. The ones that concern us today are set on the west wall of the entrance to the Chancel, one to the right and one to the left.
Mrs Austen’s memorial is very factual, and there are some notable omissions. Here is the wording:
In Memory of
daughter of the late
Reverend Thomas Leigh
Rector of Harpsden Oxfordshire
and relict of the Late
Reverend George Austen
Rector of Steventon Hants
She died this 18th day of January 1827
aged 87 years
Leaving four sons
and one daughter surviving namely
of Chawton House in this Parish
Henry Thomas Austen
Francis William Austen
Charles John Austen and
Cassandra Elizabeth Austen
who have inscribed this tablet
to the Memory of
an Affectionate and Beloved Parent.
Jane Austen predeceased her mother by nearly 10 years, and this may explain why she was not included, but George Austen, who lived apart from his family due to his various disabilities, was still alive. He did not die until 1838, but was also omitted from this memorial.
The other memorial is to Cassandra Austen:
They are buried in the churchyard, near to the south wall of the nave,where it meets the chancel:
Here is Mrs. Austen’s grave:
And next to it is the same sort of simple gravestone to Cassandra Austen:
And so, they rest together in the village that bought them both security and peace.
That ends my postings for this year.Its been a busy one, and next year –the Year of Pride and Prejudice- promises to be very busy and , hopefully, interesting. I do hope you will join me on our journey around all the places mentioned in the novel and down along the by-ways of interesting social history points raised by the novel.
All it remains me to say, is to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year, and that hope you will allow me to
Sincerely hope your Christmas may abound in the gaieties which that
season generally brings
A few weeks ago I wrote that Chawton House Library were about to launch a new website. It is now live and ready for you to explore.
Go here to see it in all its newly-minted glory. The online novels are there in full and there is a wonderful picture gallery to bring back memories or to give those of you who have not been lucky enough to visit the Chawton home of Jane Austen’s brother, Edward ( and yes, it was also ocassoinally occupied by Frank Austen and his family )some idea of how quietly spectacular it all is.
Eleanor Marsden, the Director of Development, has asked me to mention a very special project that the Library is currently working upon. They are raising funds to restore a rather beautiful and intricate sampler in their collection, shown below. It dates from 1830 and was stitched by Mary Pennington aged only 10 years, as Instructed by Mrs Stubbs:
As they write on the appeals page:
The Pennington sampler is an asset to the Library as we seek to contextualise the education of the period and C.18 women’s literature held here; its maker’s proficiency at age ten speaks volumes about how she filled her time, her accomplishments, tastes, and her interests. The sampler also sits alongside portraits of other accomplished women of the period, and re-values work produced in the home by placing it alongside work produced professionally by writers and painters.
Our object collections are fundamental to contextualising the literature – and vice versa – and with a number of C.18 miscellanies in the literary collection, the sampler by Mary Pennington is a beautiful and rare example of domestic work by a young woman of the long eighteenth century.
If you would like to help them with any donations to fund this project, then do go here to their fund raising page. You have to agree, this sampler is very fine, and would probably out do poor Charlotte Palmer’s effort -a landscape of silks -which was hung in her old bedroom in Mrs. Jennings’ house in Town, as proof of her rather expensive, and, it is implied by Jane Austen, rather useless education:
It had formerly been Charlotte’s, and over the mantlepiece still hung a landscape in coloured silks of her performance, in proof of her having spent seven years at a great school in town to some effect.
Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 26.
I was lucky enough to visit this very fascinating exhibition at Chawton House Library on Friday.
It is based around a the discovery of a fascinating document, the sale catalogue of the bookseller, John Burdon who had premises in College Street, Winchester. When he died in 1803 , his sons failed to carry on his business and thus his entire stock was sold at auction in 1807. By studying the catalogue- which lists over 5,000 individual titles- we can deduce what reading material was available to his customers in Winchester and the surrounding area.
We can also deduce what Jane Austen might then have read and had access to, in addition to the books we know she referenced in her novels and letters.Burdon was entitled to be called the Austen family’s bookseller, because it would appear they had an account at the shop. In her letter to Cassandra Austen, her sister, of the 25th November 1798 she makes the following comment, referring to her father’s account at Burdon’s bookshop:
We have got “Fitz Albini”; my father has bought it against my private wishes, for it does not quite satisfy my feelings that we should purchase the only one of Egerton’s works of which his family are ashamed. That these scruples, however, do not at all interfere with my reading it, you will easily believe. We have neither of us yet finished the first volume. My father is disappointed — I am not, for I expected nothing better. Never did any book carry more internal evidence of its author. Every sentiment is completely Egerton’s. There is very little story, and what there is is told in a strange, unconnected way. There are many characters introduced, apparently merely to be delineated. We have not been able to recognise any of them hitherto, except Dr. and Mrs. Hey and Mr. Oxenden, who is not very tenderly treated…We have got Boswell’s “Tour to the Hebrides” and are to have his “Life of Johnson”; and, as some money will yet remain in Burdon’s hands, it is to be laid out in the purchase of Cowper’s works.
The exhibit very carefully leads the visitor around the story of what could be available to purchase in a provincial booksellers like Burdons. And the choice was surprisingly vast and varied: local authors, international big hitters, travel journals, political treaties, theological works, poetry, fiction, plays. And not all of this material was produced in London and distributed locally by the bookshop, after ordering them from catalogues. Burdon was a producer as well as a supplier. He supplied newspapers, pamphlets, single volumes, and lavishly produced multi volume sets. Neither was he alone: Winchester had several booksellers, stationers, bookbinders, private libraries and circulating libraries. The press that printed the weekly-produced Hampshire Chronicle from 1778 was on show in the Oak Room,which you can just make out in the photograph below, to the right.
The exhibit was set out in two rooms at Chawton House: the Oak Room, where part of the room was set up as a Gentleman’s Library of the period…
…his desk chair left momentarily empty as he is seemingly suddenly called away from his books…
And then the Map Room….
Each book was accompanied by a laminated card printed with thought-provoking statements and questions relating to each book.
One of my favourite books on show was the Winchester College Borrowers Book, below
I do hope this is available either to purchase or view online soon, as it would be wonderful to speculate about the type of books Jane Austen might have purchased and not mentioned in her letters….
And in the famous alcove in the Oak Room, The Winchester Bindery, which operates from the current P. and G. Wells bookshop in Winchester, where Mr Burdon had his premises in the late 18th century…
produced an explanatory display about the bookbinders art, which included some 18th century tools – see the mind-blowingly large set of card cutters, below:
How many children were employed in the use of these, I wonder ?…The exhibition,which runs until Friday afternoon does have a simply produced but very informative catalogue, which is reasonably available at the cost of £1.
Eleanor Marsden, the Development Officer at Chawton House Library, has kindly allowed us a teaser, a sneak preview of their new website:
It will be launched at the end of July, and looks very different from their current website, below, I’m sure you will agree.
I’m looking forward to examining it in detail, as I’m sure there are treasures waiting to be found within its digital pages! It will be at the same address, http://www.chawton.org/ so do keep an eye open for it.
Chawton House Library is currently staging an intriguing exhibition entitled, Jane Austen’s Bookshop.
A result of a joint research project by the University of Winchester, California State University Long Beach and Chawton House itself, the exhibition provides a detailed look at the stock of John Burdon’s bookshop in Winchester, which was open for business during Jane Austen’s life time in College Street, Winchester. As the University of Winchester website tells us:
The exhibition provides, for the first time, a snapshot of a complete catalogue of printed material which was available at John Burdon’s bookshop in Winchester during Jane Austen’s lifetime. Burdon’s was used by the Austen family as well as other influential writers of the period and was based in College Street, now the home of Wells Bookshop.
P and G Wells is a favourite bookshop of mine. They have always stocked rare to find Jane Austen-related material, and in the dark days before the online buying of books was easily transacted, you could always reply on them to send books to you via their excellent mail order service.
One of those rare survivors, an independent bookshop, P. and G. Wells still offer a fine service to their customers, all over the world, and, of course, an additional link to Jane Austen is that their premises are situated on College Street in Winchester, a few doors away from the house where it is thought that Jane Austen died, below…
and they are also in the same street as Winchester College, below, where many of Jane’s nephews were educated:
The big breakthrough which inspired much of the research was made by Dr. Norbert Schürer, a visiting Leverhulme Fellow at Winchester who specialises in studying the work of women writers of the eighteenth century. He found the bookseller’s catalogue which dates from 1807. As he explains:
I was researching eighteenth-century print culture in Winchester.One of the first things I did was to identify Burdon’s bookshop by putting research from other critics together. Then quite by chance, I discovered that the bookshop had been sold in 1807 with a complete catalogue, giving us the name of every single book in the store.
The catalogue apparently contains details of all the books stocked by John Burdon in 1807 : they include novels, biographies, travel narratives as well as travel guides, journals and periodicals, theological literature, sermons, poetry and a wealth of other reading matter. The exhibition will explore how readers and writers in Winchester shared printed material in the early 19th century, and it focuses on publications made by scholars at Winchester College, annual reports from the County Hospital, and advertisements and reviews in local newspapers like the Hampshire Chronicle. It is open weekdays, 10am-4pm, from Tuesday 19 June to Friday 6 July.
I am lucky enough to be in Chawton this weekend, and if I manage to get to the exhibition, I will, of course, report back to you, but I should think that many of you in the area will be making plans to visit it. It sounds totally fascinating.
Mr Brodnax Moore, the grandson of Mr. and Mrs. George Brook Knight, has very kindly made available to us a PDF. file of the booklet which was produced to mark the unveiling of the Centenary Tablet on Chawton Cottage (now the Jane Austen House Museum) in 1917.
This is the cover of the original booklet:
The booklet, now quite a rare find in antiquarian bookshops, contains details of the unveiling ceremony, with photographs and the text of the speeches. Constance Hill, who wrote Jane Austen, Her Home and Her Friends,(1902) and her sister, Ellen G. Hill were the prime movers in the desire to erect a tablet on the cottage, and helped form a committee to raise the necessary funds. They wished to commemorate the fact that this was the house where Jane Austen had lived and worked. At that time in the early 20th century the house was still in the ownership of the Knight family and was part of the Chawton estate. It was not open to the public, and the formation of the Jane Austen Society was some decades away. This booklet records, therefore, the beginnings of the interest in Jane Austen’s life, times and works which continues today.
Ellen Hill designed the tablet, shown below, which can still be seen on the house today, and its interesting symbolism is explained in the booklet.
If you would like to read the booklet, or download it to keep on your computer, then you may by clicking on this link, below, which will take you directly to the file.
I’m sure you will all want to thank Mr. Moore for this very kind and generous gift to us. The original booklet was found by him in one of his grandmother’s albums. She and her husband lived at the Great House, now know as Chawton House Library, below, in the 1930s.
He very carefully constructed the PDF file directly from it. I am very grateful to him for making this available to us all, and for his thoughtfulness. So, please, do enjoy reading this interesting item.
As we edge ever nearer to the celebrations for Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, I thought you might like to read about a Jubilee that Jane Austen experienced. I’m in the middle of preparations for my family’s celebrations this weekend, so instead of a few posts, published over a few days I thought you wouldn’t object to me posting one long post about the topic.
The celebrations for George III’s Golden Jubilee became the template for all our other jubilees, and it is interesting to see just how similar our experiences are. George III’s jubilee was the first time since James I’s reign that a Jubilee had been celebrated. The Jubilee has religious origins, and the celebrations are based on this passage from the Bible:
A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed.
King George came to the throne on 25th October 1760. Not many English monarchs had celebrated 50 years on the throne, and we have no records of how theKings up to this date- Henry III, Edward III and James I had celebrated this rare event. George III’s celebrations appear to be the first to be celebrated on a nation-wide basis, and set a pattern that has been followed in British Jubilee celebrations ever since. We know a lot about the early 19th century celebrations because they are recorded, in greater detail, in a book:
This is a fascinating volume and was reprinted in a second edition in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, giving those who wanted to organise celebratory events then a good idea of what had gone on 70 years before. Go here to read it on Google Books. The Entry for Basingstoke in Hampshire is interesting. It gives a glimpse of what was going on in that area on the 25th Octiber, and many of the name s mentioned will be familiar to you:
Not less than one thousand persons (comprehending the indigent of both sexes and all ages) were liberally treated with an amplitude of wholesome viands, accompanied with ten hogsheads of strong beer, at Lord Bolton’s seat at Hackwood . Mr Chute, COl Jervoise,Mr Wither, Mr Blackburn, Mr Harwood and other neighbouring gentlemen,emulated each other on the joyful occasion, in similar acts of liberality. The day was introduced by a ball and cold collation on the preceding night,at which all the neighbouring gentry were present. The religious service of the day was attended by The Mayor and Corporation, the North Hants Cavalry and Basingstoke Infantry; when an excellent sermon was preached by the Rev. Mr. Russell Curate of Basingstoke; a liberal subscription was raised for the indigent ands the day concluded with a public dinner, at the Town Hall, attended by the Mayor and Corporation, the North Hants Corps and many of the neighbouring gentlemen,where the utmost harmony and festivity prevailed to a late hour.
But for Jane Austen it appears to have been rather a quiet day. Not, I hasten to add, that we know much about what she did or thought of the celebrations for, as she and Cassandra were together, there would be no reason for her to record her thoughts in a letter and no pocket book survives. However, we do know that on the 24th October 1809, the day before the date for the official celebrations of George III’s Jubilee, Mary Austen, James Austen’s wife (he was Jane Austen’s eldest brother and had succeeded his father as Rector of Steventon) attended a Golden Jubilee ball at Basingstoke.
Edward Knight, Jane Austen’s lucky brother who was adopted by the wealthy Knights, was in Chawton, at the cottage with Jane Austen, Cassandra and Mrs Austen. Fanny Knight, his eldest daughter, made this entry in her pocket-book for the 25th October, which was the day the Jubilee was officially celebrated:
Papa came back to breakfast & brought not a very good account of George. The Jubilee on act. of the dear old King’s 50th accession day. No very grand doings here.We all dined with Mrs F. A.(Frank Austen’s wife-jfw) except G.M. & Charles. I spent the morng. there whilst Papa, Aunts C and Jane called at Froyle.
So, at Chawton, not much was going on. Edward Knight had a tenant, Mr Middleton, who was in residence at Chawton House and so Edward could not host any land-lordly festivities there. Unlike at Steventon, where the Digweeds, the local squires, gave a dinner for the poor of the parish,which was held in their barn on their estate.
So…what was going on in the rest of the country. At Windsor the Royal Family attended a service of Thanksgiving at St. George’s Chapel: you can see the roof of the chapel to the right of the round tower in my print, below:
George III was blind and ill at this stage in his life, and was anxious about the health of his daughter Princess Amelia. She was taken seriously ill on the day of the Jubilee celebrations( the 25th October )and died on the 2nd November 1809. At Batchelor’s Acre at Windsor a giant ox and some mutton were begin roasted for the benefit of the poor, but in the morning of the 25th October Queen Charlotte and many of the other members of the royal family arrived at 10.30 a.m to taste the beef:
Should any player spin a number on which there is already a marker, he must take its place and the other must move one forward.
Any player taking more than his due, must go back as many numbers as he took. If he take too few, and the next player have spun, he must remain where he was.
Persons going backward in the game are exempted from the fines attached to the figures on which they be obliged to rest.
I thought you all might appreciate a post on the latest developments regarding the disputed portrait of Jane Austen now owned by Dr. Paula Byrne.
Recently there has been flurry of activity surrounding it, mostly published in the Times Literary Supplement.
The first article was by Paul Byrne, and this reiterated, in the main, the arguments she made for positively identifying the portrait as Jane Austen, and having been taken from life, in her BBC 2 programme, Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait. However, there are a few new points and you might like to hear them. Dr Byrne has been investigating the view shown on the portrait and seems to have positively identified it as the view of Westminster Abbey, St Margaret’s Church and Westminster Bridge, which could be seen from one specific place: No.3 The Sanctuary. This house was occupied, in the early 19th century, by Edward Smedley, an Anglican priest who was also senior usher at Westminster School. Dr.Byrne writes:
He was a man with literary interests, whose published poems included Transmigration (1778) and Erin: A geographical and descriptive poem (1810). He was married to Hannah (1754-1825), the daughter of George Bellas, a gentleman who worked as public notary in the High Court of Admiralty, which dealt with all shipping disputes, and who owned estates in the parish of Farnham on the border of Hampshire and Surrey. Their eldest son, also called Edward Smedley (1788-1836), had serious literary aspirations. He won the Seatonian Prize for English Verse at Cambridge in 1813 and from 1814 onwards he published with John Murray of Albemarle Street. His works with Jane Austen’s publisher ranged from The Death of Saul and Jonathan, a Poem (1814) and The Parson’s Choice, or, Town and Country: An Epistle (1821) to Sketches from Venetian History (1831).
Edward Smedley Junior therefore had the same publisher as Jane Austen, John Murray, and a slight family connection (see below). However, he also appears to have been a fan of Jane Austen’s works from the evidence of his published correspondence:
Pious, antiquarian and serious-minded, the Smedleys seem a far cry from Jane Austen. So it comes as something of a surprise to discover in “Poems by the late Rev. Edward Smedley, A.M.: with a selection from his correspondence and a memoir of his life “(1837) that Smedley Junior was an avid reader of her novels
In addition Dr Byrne notes that a daughter of Anna Austen, Louisa, married the Reverend Septimus Bellas of Monk Sherborne in Hampshire, who was “a collateral relative of George Bellas”
Dr Byrne poses the question: do we know exactly what Jane Austen did when she was in London negotiating the terms for the publication of Emma? She poses the theory that Jane Austen may have known the Smedleys and may have visited them at No 3 ,The Sanctuary,where the portrait was made , and where it probably stayed in the Smedley family for some time, most probably in an album of drawings as there appears to be evidence of old glue on the reverse of the portrait. Smedley Junior had two daughters, who grew up to be novelists and Dr Byrne considers they were even influenced by Jane Austen:
They both grew up to become novelists strongly influenced by Jane Austen. Menella’s The Maiden Aunt (1849) begins in a very familiar-sounding style – “Emma, the youngest sister of Margaret Forde, married James Ferrars, a captain in the navy, and was left a widow, with two children” – while Elizabeth Anna’s The Runaway (1872) is manifestly a rewriting of Emma (with a mildly lesbian twist). Its publication was welcomed by the Sun newspaper with the announcement that “The future before her as a novelist is that of becoming the Miss Austin of her generation”.
One lead might be interesting, regarding the provenance of the portrait. It was sold to Mr Davids by the executrix of Sir John Forster, Barrister. The executrix, on his instructions, burnt all his papers when she had finished administering his estate. However, Paula Byrne has discovered that it was given to him by his nanny, Miss Helen Carruthers and she is investigating if there are any links between Miss Carruthers and the Smedley daughters. If anyone reading this can help her, please contact me and I’ll gladly send on any information.
She concluded thus:
Until we find another writer who was middle-aged in about 1815, who had a taste for long sleeves and a cap, who was tall and spare, straightbacked, with dark curly hair and facial features bearing an uncanny resemblance to Jane Austen’s brothers, we must keep open the possibility that this truly is a lifetime portrait of the woman who signed her own name on the back of John Murray’s royalty cheque for Emma as “Miss Jane Austin”.
This article prompted two letters to the Editor. The first was from Roy Davids, the dealer who sold the portrait at auction to Dr Byrne , and was published in the TLS on the 20th April, 2012. In his letter he defended his catalogue description of the portrait,thus:
Dr Byrne not entirely accurately had me cowering before the formidable Deirdre Le Faye (given the correspondence with that doyenne of the Austen industry which I shared with her). Vendors, it should be said, have an obligation towards a sobriety of tone, balance and judgement that need not constrain an enthusiastic new owner in quite the same way. But, of more consequence, Byrne tends to minimize what was said in the catalogue, which at least hinted at some of her more significant discoveries, when she writes: “Deterred by Le Faye, Davids did no further work on the portrait and it was accordingly given a low estimate in a sale of his literary manuscripts and portraits at Bonham’s in March 2011, where I bought it. The sale catalogue reproduced Le Faye’s opinion, but also noted that Henry Austen’s ‘Biographical Notice’ (1818) of his late sister did not include any specific details of her appearance, so it would have seemed an unlikely source for a portrait”.
A week later another letter was published from Professor Richard Jenkyns ,who is, in fact, a descendant of Jane Austen’s eldest brother, James. He doubts that the portrait is of Jane Austen. His first objection is the setting:
Dr Byrne treats the picture like a photograph – as though Jane Austen had visited an unattested friend who chanced to live due west of the Abbey and someone snapped her there. But of course portraits were not like that; the backgrounds signify. The sitter is a Londoner: she is at home with her cat beside her. No one would take a likeness of a person with somebody else’s cat. She may have been wife, daughter or sister of a Rector of St Margaret’s or a Dean or Canon of Westminster, or perhaps a literary lady who wrote about Westminster. It seems improbable that this is a view from the window of someone who happened to live at just this spot, because the setting is not naturalistic: note the theatrical column and curtain. The artist could have sketched the churches on site but more likely used an engraving.
He also pointed out that the lady portrayed in the portrait is shown as having light-coloured eyes:
Jane Austen’s eyes were shown as brown in Cassandra Austen’s sketch-the only authenticated image of Jane Austen’s face- that is now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery:
She was described as having had hazel eyes by people who know her in life, particularly Caroline Austen, her niece. He also disputes that the nose depicted in the “Austin” portrait is an example of The Austen Nose.
The same point about the colour of the “Austin’s ” lady’s eyes is made in the Spring 2012 JASNA newsletter. Dr Andrew Norman who has written a biography of Jane Austen (Jane Austen, An Unrequited Love) wrote to the editor to make the same point about the colour of the sitters eyes: that these are pale and Jane Austen had dark coloured eyes.
On the 4th May, Dierdre Le Faye published her thoughts on the drawing. Amongst other points, she doubts that Jane Austen would have wanted to be depicted as a writer, a point that has also been made by Claire Tomalin. She points to the lack of books in the portrait: if Jane Austen and wanted to be shown as a proudly, published author, where are her books? She also dismissed the face depicted as being of the real Jane Austen: it is too thin and long , and the eyes are of the wrong hue.
As to the dating of the portrait by the fashionable clothes on show, Le Faye points out that Jane and Cassandra Austen were constantly altering and updating their clothes due to their limited income:
The sitter’s high neck and long sleeves, with copious lace trimmings, suggest rich respectability. is clear from Jane’s letters that as she and Cassandra were far from wealthy, they were constantly altering their dresses by unpicking and dyeing them and adding different trimmings, until finally demoting them to be used as petticoats or linings. No dresses of theirs could ever be precisely dated.
She also comments on the profusion of jewellery on show:
The amount of jewellery worn by the sitter is far more than Jane Austen is known to have possessed…Even if Jane had possessed all these items – and surely her brother Charles’s present of a topaz cross would have been shown? – it would be thoroughly uncomfortable to wear four rings while writing. This strongly suggests that the portrait was only meant to be symbolic, emphasizing the wealth of the sitter.
Here you can see the necklaces, numbering three in my counting:
And here you can see the profusion of rings:
She also dismisses the view of Westminster as having any connection with Jane Austen, and thinks the links with the Smedley family are only circumstantial. She also notes the lack of any documentary evidence connecting Sir John Forster’s nanny with the portrait. The inscription “Miss Jane Austin” on the reverse of the portrait is commented upon:
The title on the verso, “Miss Jane Austin”, also turns out to be a red herring. As it is in ink, it was added at a later date – otherwise, the artist would have written the name in plumbago as s/he finished the drawing. Secondly, the word “Miss” is written in modern style; had it been written in Regency times the ligature of “MiFs” would have been used. Austen’s eldest nephew and nieces, who were taught to write between about 1795 and 1815, all used this ligature for a double “s” till their dying days in the 1870s and 80s. Anyone writing “Miss” was obviously born much later in the nineteenth century.
Here is an example in Jane Austen’s own handwriting, which demonstrates how the word “Miss “would have been written by any contemporary of her:
This is a copy of the later she wrote to her sister Cassandra on the 20th February 1807. You can clearly see that she addressed Cassandra as “MiFs” Austen. The use of the word “Miss” in this form is clear evidence that this inscription was added much later in the 19th century than in 1816.
As Byrne has not provided any incontrovertible documentary evidence to support her claims, the portrait, even if it does date from the early nineteenth century, cannot be accepted as a genuine representation of Jane Austen.
So..there you are. The controversy continues.
What do I make of it all?
I went to see the portrait recently, for it is currently on show at Jane Austen’s House Museum. What struck me on viewing it was indeed the large amount of jewellery that adorned the sitter. If this really is Jane Austen, where is that jewellery now? And why wasn’t Charles Austen’s quite magnificent topaz cross included, for this must have been Jane Austen’s most grand piece of personal jewellery, and if she was “showing herself to her best advantage” would she not have included that piece ? I do think on close examination that there is some form of pendant hanging from the first, shortest necklace. It is not clear, however, what form that pendant takes, and it may be another brooch, not attached to the chain at all.
The provenance of the portrait is still very uncertain, and seems to end in the 1980s with the death of Sir John Forster. I am still not convinced that the view,which is very carefully delineated, has any connection with Jane Austen.
The presence of the cat still make no sense to me at all in relation to Jane Austen.
I still feel that this is, at the very best, a portrait of a real life Miss Austin, who had links with Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s, which was made in the early years of the 19th century, but that it is not our Jane Austen. The attribution on the frame, which was made much later, seems to me to have been a case of wishful thinking by a later owner and, until there is any other strong documentary evidence to prove otherwise, I remain unconvinced ( not that my opinion really matters!)
If you would like to see it yourself, then do go to the Museum to see it: I do urge you to go if you can for it is interesting to see it “in the flesh”. I hadn’t realised how prominent the cat was. It certainly cannot be glossed over as it is an important part of the composition. But what does a cat have to do with Jane Austen? And will we ever find the answer? Fascinating.
In 2006 I was privileged to see this suit, shown below in its restored state, just before it went to be stabilised and restored, while I was on a visit to Chawton House Library. It is now the subject of an appeal, for it needs a special display case in order that the public can have access to it, to view it in all its restored glory
Chawton House was, of course, known to Jane Austen as The Great House in Chawton village and it was once owned by Edward Knight, her brother, shown below in his Grand Tour portrait, which is now also on show at the Library.
Edward inherited the Godmersham estate in Kent and the Chawton estate in Hampshire from Thomas Knight. He was a relative of George Austen, Edward and Jane’s father. Thomas and his wife were childless and had “adopted ” Edward, and made him their heir. This grand inheritance enabled him to provide a productive and happy home for Jane Austen her sister, Cassandra, their mother, Mrs Austen and their friend Martha Lloyd from 1809, at what is now the Jane Austen’s House Museum in the village.
This silk suit- a suit of two pieces, frock coat and breeches- has been in the Knight family since the 1790s.
It is said to have belonged to Edward, and the suit is now on loan to Chawton House Library by kind permission of Richard Knight, Edward’s descendant. Since I saw it the suit has been restored. Louise Squire, the textile conservator, prepared a report on it in 2009 and commented:
“The matching silk frock coat and breeches are dated to approximately 1789. The coat is fully lined with a yellow silk taffeta fabric,with the sleeves being lined in a white plain weave linen fabric. The olive green breeches are constructed in ribbed silk and feature a wide waistband, loose fitting seat and finish below the knee with narrow cuffs. The coat and breeches are a good example of the fashion of the day, with Edward’s penchant for oversize buttons!”
The Library has had a bespoke mannequin made for the suit, which you can see here, below, displaying the restored olive green silk breeches.
The suit is very small by modern standards, hence the need for the bespoke mannequin, and it is a fascinating object in its own right, without the added interest of its Austen family connections. For the suit to be put on display and for all us all to be able to enjoy it, it now needs a special conservation-grade display case, not only to display it but to protect it. This will cost around £5000, and the Library has raised nearly half the sun required for it. But just over half of the sum still needs to be raised, hence their current appeal for funds.
So, if you think you might be able to help the library with financial contributions towards the cost of displaying this very interesting Austen relic, you can contact Eleanor Marsden, the Development Director, on telephone number 01420-541010 or you can e-mail her on Elanor.firstname.lastname@example.org, for she would be delighted to hear from you with any offers of help you can afford to give.
A s you all know, a few weeks ago I paid another visit to Jane Austen’s House Museum.
This is always a treat, but this autumn, which has been long and very beautiful, it was an extra special time to pay a visit to the stunning Hampshire scenery of the countryside around Chawton.
The autumnal colours of the gently rolling and wooded Hampshire countryside ( while nothing to the colours of a New England autumn ) were very lovely this year. I’ve written about the interior of the house before, so I thought this time I’d share with you my photographs of the garden. As some of you already know, I’m a very keen gardener,and, in fact, began my blogging life with a garden blog, so I always enjoy sitting and looking at this small but beautifully in-keeping and well-tended space.
The garden is to the left and to the rear of the house. On leaving the house the garden beckons, the last roses in bloom around the door invite you to wander…
The day I visited an autumnal cleaning up of the garden was taking place.
I like to see the garden actually being tended and used on a visit: it brings it alive.
The Austen ladies had a view of the garden from the ground floor of the house: the Gothic window on the garden side of the house was opened up and installed for them. You can see it on the left of the house, below.
The old drawing-room window was blocked up before they arrived to take possession of the house..
Chawton Cottage was of course, part of Edward Austen Knight’s Chawton estate and it was due to his beneficence that from 1809, the Austen ladies finally lived in a settled home.
The garden is not now how it was when the Austen ladies lived there, but care is taken by the Museum to try to include only plants that would have been available to them.
The view from the house looks out onto an oak tree surrounded by a Regency style tree seat. This is in fact a seedling from a tree that was originally planted by the Austen ladies when they took possession of Chawton Cottage. Two trees were planted by the wall that forms the boundary of the garden and the road.
These have now been felled due to disease,but Elizabeth Bowden, who was the then curator of the museum on the 1980s, found a seedling from one of the trees near the wall and replanted it here. It is an English oak-Quercus ruber.
A display of plants used in the dying process is also near to the house…
Onions grown for their skins….wihch produce a yellow or rust coloured dye.
Tickseed… which produces a yellow, green or rust coloured dye..
and Madder..which prduces a red dye.
In keeping with the pre-Victorian theme of the garden, the planting includes such cottage garden stalwarts as hollyhock , below…
and fuchsia. Fuchsia magellanica, below, was first introduced into England in 1788,
so it is entirely plausible that such a plant might have grown in the Austen ladies garden.
To the rear of the garden the herbaceous border sweeps round and on the lawn there is always plenty of comfortable seating.
This is a smashing position in which to sit in the summer. Quite often the number of summer visitors to the small house can be rather overwhelming, and it is good to sit here in the garden and take stock.
The beech hedge divides the public from the working part of the garden.
To the rear of the house is a great yew tree, which must surely date from at last the time of the house. At this time of year the red fruits of the yew are very visible
Hers is a very short video of the garden. You will be pleased to note I am taking delivery of a MUCH better camera this week and so, on my next visit, the photographs and videos(especially the videos!) will be of a much higher quality. If only the operator were more talented ;)
So that’s it : a short autumnal visit to the garden at Chawton Cottage, Jane Austen’s much-loved Chawton home.
I do hope you have enjoyed it .
Yesterdays episode of the BBC2 programme, The Antiques Road Trip, a spin-off from the BBC1 programme, Bargain Hunt, was partly filmed in Chawton,
and featured Jane Austen’s House Museum.
I thought you might like to see some images from it.
The programme is a gentle jaunt about the country in the company of two auctioneers/experts who buy and sell antiques on the way, all the profits to benefit charity. The programme makes stops at various spots of interest along the road trip route, and in episode 15 of the third series, Paul Laidlaw took the opportunity to pay a visit to the Jane Austen House Museum.
He was greeted at the door by Louise West, the museum’s curator…
and was taken to see the dining room…
where the tiny but very important table where Jane Austen sat, revised and wrote all six of her finished novels
was admired and wondered about.
He also visited the new study area in the museum- which used to house its tiny shop ( now in a much larger and better situation in the restored barn! ) where a first edition copy of Sense and Sensibility– appropriately enough in this its anniversary year- was on show.
If you can try and watch the programme on the BBC Iplayer- it is available for another six days and the Jane Austen House part of the programme is approximately 25 minutes into the programme. Paul Laidlaw was obviously quite taken with the museum and asked some interesting questions. Its well worth a look .
…then hie thee to Chawton on Saturday the 9th April, when the actors Hattie Morahan( who played Elinor in the BBCs latest production of Sense and Sensibility) and Blake Ritson ( Edmund in ITVs production of Mansfield Park and the odious Mr Elton in the BBC latest production of Emma) will be paying a visit to the Jane Austen House Museum and Chawton Village Hall to take part in a very special actors panel entitled Always Acting a Part: A Panel of Austen Actors
This is a marvellous and rare opportunity to meet these two wonderful actors, to hear their thoughts on playing some of Jane Austen’s most interesting characters and also to put to them any questions you have as to how they prepared for these roles and also how they interpreted their characters in the recent adaptations.
The Panel Discussion, which is part of the Jane Austen’s House Museum’s celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s first novel Sense and Sensibility, will take place in Chawton Village Hall and commences at 8.00pm, but before that there will be a Pre-Performance Gathering in the Learning Centre at the Museum from 7.00pm
Tickets are now available to book from the Jane Austen House Museum at the following prices : £17.50, Concessions £15.00 (to include pre-performance glass of wine). Under 16s £10.00. To book please telephone 01420 83262
And I’d hurry if I were you as I’m sure these tickets will soon be sold out! It’s not every day you have the opportunity to see (and more importantly hear!) Elinor Dashwood, Edmund Bertram and Mr Elton in the same room…;)
Today I have something really special to offer you, an interview with Louise West, who has recently been appointed as the Curator of the Jane Austen House Museum at Chawton. She has succeeded the redoubtable and rather wonderful Mr Tom Carpenter in the role and was the Education Officer at the Museum for many years prior to this appointment.
A few weeks ago I asked Louise if she would give us an interview, for I knew you would like to get to know her a little better, especially as she is the person who is now caring for Jane Austen’s very important Chawton Home. Amazingly, she agreed to do it….
So, here it is. I do hope you find it interesting.
Louise, you have worked at the Jane Austen’s House Museum for some years, first as the education officer and now as the curator, can you tell us when and how you first become interested in Jane Austen?
I was aware of her from a very young age and in my bedroom there was a copy of Pride and Prejudice with illustrations by Brock which my mother had received as a school prize in the 1930’s. I first read beyond Chapter One when I was 15 (tried at 12 and got nowhere) and have been hooked ever since.
This is the question most Janeites hate, because it is almost unanswerable, but I’ll ask it anyway: which is your favourite Jane Austen novel and why?
Emma. It was my A level text so I knew it in detail from early on but it still surprises me. It’s also cheered my through sad times in my life.
Many people associate Bath with Jane Austen and are not aware of the treasures to find at Chawton. They often think it is difficult to access (most emphatically, it is not!) Yet too many people visiting the museum might endanger it’s unique and very special atmosphere. This is obviously a delicate balance to maintain, and I’d like to know what is your long-term vision for the museum, and your thoughts on attracting visitors to the house.
Let me say first of all that I can understand why people associate Bath with Jane Austen. It is after all a Regency town and includes places specifically included in her novels. However, I do want people in this country and worldwide to associate Chawton and Hampshire in their mind with Jane Austen, because this was her home county and Chawton Cottage (now Jane Austen’s House Museum) was actual home. More importantly it’s the home where she did the majority of her writing – the reason for her fame!
The numbers game is tricky but I would confidently say that we are nowhere near breaking point. There are times that are particularly busy in the summer but then there is always the garden to explore. The winter months of November, December, February and March can be quite quiet and visitors can enjoy the special atmosphere of the house sometimes on their own.
We do want to encourage repeat visits and we are lucky that over the next few years we have the bicentenaries of all the novels to celebrate.
The next seven years are very exciting ones for Janeites with so many important bi-centenaries on the calendar, culminating in 2017 with the bicentenary of Jane Austen death. How will the museum be celebrating this year’s 200th anniversary of the first publication of Sense and Sensibility?
In many ways. All our events this year are themed around Sense and Sensibility, and these will include concerts, talks and relevant displays. (Go here to see more details of the events.) We will be having regular readings from the novel by our staff and volunteers who have been helped by our wonderful patron, Elizabeth Garvie. (Whom you will all recognize in her photograph, below, for she is a general Janeite favourite, her portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet in the 1981 production of Pride and Prejudice produced by the BBC is considered one of the best, and her stage performances in A Celebration of Jane Austen, with her late husband, Anton Rogers and now with Robert Powell, are acclaimed- jfw)
May I ask about the new edition of about the new edition of Sense and Sensibility that the Jane Austen House Museum is publishing this year? Is this going to be the first of a series of all six of the novels? Can you let us have some details about the book: for example, will it be published in hardback and paperback format, will it be annotated and will it be illustrated? And can we order it from the Museum shop?
We are very excited about this venture as you can imagine – publishing Jane’s first novel 200 years after it was first published from this very house. Our aim at this stage is certainly to publish all 6 novels in the same format over the next few years. It will be a hardback copy with covers very similar to the original board ones, but it will be in one volume and not three. As with the original it will not be annotated or illustrated, but, it will have a foreword by our patron, Professor Kathryn Sutherland, renowned Austen scholar, from Oxford University. Yes, you will be able to order it from the museum shop.
The newly refurbished kitchen has been beautifully renovated, and is a wonderfully inviting space. Do you have any plans to use it for public events, and do you plan to use it in conjunction with Martha Lloyd’s amazing household book?
We already use the kitchen for certain events. We have held herb workshops in there and we often use it for intimate sessions with small groups. It’s also a very nice venue for refreshments at evening events. We do have plans to use the recipe book in new and creative ways, but these are still in development. Watch this space!
This all sounds rather exciting, intriguing and yet comforting at the same time. It is wonderful to note that Jane Austen’s house is in such good and capable hands, and I do look forward to the development of Chawton under Louise’s tenure very much. I should like to thank her for her time and for her gracious answers to my rudimentary questions, and I hope many of you will visit Louise at the Museum.
Chawton House Library have published ten pages of Jane Austen’s Sir Charles Grandison, the manuscript of which is in their collection, online for us all to share.
If you go here you can access the pages , enlarge them and read them to your heart’s content.
Sir Charles Grandison was of course one of Jane Austen’s favourite books,the original being written by Samuel Richardson. The late Brian Southern in the facsimile edition of Sir Charles Grandison produced in 1980 by the Clarendon Press, thought that her version a play written for home performance-was written by her as a small skit prior to 1801.
As you can see from the manuscript pages many additions were made throughout the ensuing years. It was thought at one time that Jane Austen’s niece, Anna Austen,was the author of this play but Brian Southern’s detective work disproved this- deducing that many of the scenes were written before Anna was born,and all the additions made when she could have been no older than seven years old.
The manuscript remained in the Lefroy branch of the Austen family after Jane Austen’s death in 1817, and a facsimile copy was produced in 1980. It is now in the collection at Chawton House Library.
Ii is a typical example of Austen’s humour: Richardson’s great work- which runs to seven volumes-is reduced to a small booklet, 52 pages long…..Enjoy;)
It’s nearly Twelfth Night and the Christmas season is almost over for another year. It was, of course, at Christmas that Jane Austen’s family used to perform their own private theatrical at Steventon Rectory ,and thus it is highly appropriate that I make one final post about such Christmas activities. In December I had the extreme good luck to be able to travel to Chawton House to watch a rare recreation of how Private Theatricals were played out in country houses during Jane Austen’s era. The students of the Drama Department of Royal Holloway College, University of London recreated a rehearsal performance of some scenes from a play inspired by the oriental tale of Nourjahad as written by Frances Sheridan. Frances Sheridan was the mother of Richard Sheridan,the playwright, and was a well known and respected author in her own right. The student authors of the play within the play were Samantha Wynn, Naomi Lawson, Lauren Buckley, Felix Clutson, Ben Hodson and Belinda Campbell.
This the frontispiece of my copy of Mrs Sheridan’s tale, and this edition was published in Dublin in 1802.
Sadly, I was not granted permission to take any photographs of this performance or its surroundings, so I will have to rely on images from my collection to try to relay to you want a successful event this was.
The students very cleverly took two parts- characters in the play and those of the figures in the social circle of Elizabeth Craven,the Margravine of Anspach- who in 1803 had performed The History of Nourjahad at her home, Brandenburg House at Hammersmith, in honour of her husband’s birthday.
(©Chawton House Library)
The evening began with the audience -around 50 of us- congregating in the wonderfully restored kitchen at Chawton House.There we were treated to oriental inspired nibbles and hot mint tea-very welcome on so cold and icy an evening. The rehearsal scenes took place in the Great Hall at Chawton- cleared of all its sofas etc…
and the Dining room was used by the Students as their Green Room. This echoed the event of 1803, for although the Margravine had a Gothic sham castle/ theatre at Brandenburg House, seen below in a print from my copy of The Beauties of England and Wales by John Britton,
she actually used the Great Gallery adjoining the Dining Room at her house for the performance. Here is a close up of her little theatre, below.
The tale of Nourjahad was fashionably oriental. The story was of the King of Persia’s favourite who was raised to glory , underwent trials of morality and finally was happily reunited with his loyal wife and admirers. As the programme produced by the students notes:
The Arabian Tale teaches the young courtier Nourjahad-and us- to be careful what one wishes for. Nourjahad quickly learns that unending youth and inexhaustible riches are not the recipe for happiness that he thought , and his increasing violence and depravity leads instead to punishment and remorse. Is there any hope of redemption for young Nourjahad?
Here are some scans of the text to give you some idea of its tone ( do note that you can enlarge all the images in this post by clicking on them):
The students wrote their play within a play themselves and very ingeniously managed to portray the petty and serious rivalries and tensions these private theatricals inevitably created, something that Jane Austen, who had watched all the goings-on between her brothers, James and Henry and her cousin Eliza de Feuillide during the series private theatricals performed at the barn at the Steventon rectory, re-created very successfully herself in Mansfield Park.
It was clear that the Margravine shown above, and played by Louise Parker, was the star of the show even though she did not actually appear on stage during the rehearsal. Her direction was authoritative and woe betide anyone who dared to veer from her dictates or question her staging directions. Nourjahad was portrayed by William Beckford, the fabulously rich owner of Fonthill,that magnificent folly of a mansion just outside Bath, and author of the gothic tale,Vathek. A member of the Margravine’s social circle, he was played suitably languidly by James Potter.
As was the case with many of the grandest private theatricals produced by members of the English aristocracy a professional was on hand to give assistance to the amateur players. In this case it was Mrs Frances Abington, who was, of course, a very famous actress of the era and had been a long-standing member of the company at the Drury Lane Theatre in London.
Mrs Abington, played by Kayleigh Tremaine,was acting the role of the Sultan. She was most anxious that her talents were not being used to the full advantage of the company (and herself!) . She had hardly any scene and hardly any lines! And was most vocal on this point!
The Margrave, played beautifully by Felix Clutson, made an unepxected appearance bringing the rehearsal to a prompt halt…all in the search for his slippers, which had been misappropriated as propos.
The harem girls were vain and all were a tempting to gain the most of the limelight…..there was fierce competition for possession of the best props and jockeying for the most advantageous positions on stage….
The hapless Miss Emily Graves, shy assistant to the Margravine played by Katie Harrison was hard pressed to correctly interpret the imperious Margravine’s wishes, or rather commands.
This was a most intriguing evening,and reflected many of the issues that the Mansfield Park theatricals exposed – feeling of pride,resentment and jealousy in the performers. I was very privileged to have seen the rehearsal scenes performed in such suitable surroundings by the very talented drama students,who played their dual roles with such verve. Professor Judith Hawley and Dr. Elaine McGirr of Royal Holloway are to be congratulated for so successfully directing their talented charges,and for re-creating such a rare and elusive event.
This is the final part of my series of posts on a Christmas visit to Jane Austen’s House, her beloved Chawton Home. We have already seen inside, downstairs and upstairs and so now let have a look at the garden in winter and the outbuildings.
This is the view of the rear of the house. You can clearly see its basic “L’ shape , plus all the other additions made to the structure over the years.
The building that could be clearly seen from Jane Austen and Cassandra’s bedroom was the Bakehouse, a very important part of the Chawton Cottage domain.
Just outside the bake house was the well….which was needed to provide copious amounts of water
for the laundry,which was done in the Bakehouse too. This is the ‘copper’ :the bricks house a copper container. A fire would be lit underneath and the cottons boiled in the upper compartment, now covered with a wooden lid. I remember my grandmother -who had a similar room in her domestic offices- having her laundry done in this way by a team of people .As a tiny child I was allowed to watch the complex operation of boiling, mangling and starching. Seems a million years ago now…..
The baking for the Austen household took place here too…..
And the proximity of the well and the copper made the Bakehouse the perfectly practical place for boiling water for scalding the skins of slaughtered pigs. 18th century self sufficiency sounds delightful but having salted a pig once I can confirm it’s not something I’d like to do on a regular basis. Nor indeed is the time tyranny of always producing bread for a household something I’d like to revert to(I tried that once by hand for a few weeks and gave up:then I bought a bread maker!)
The other occupant of the Bakehouse is Mrs Austen’s donkey carriage which I have written about here in a previous post. Its interesting to note that Jane Austen in her final illness didn’t relish driving the cart, which would accommodate two not very large people. She had a saddle made for the donkey and prefered to use this as a sort of Georgian mobility scooter, and this enabled her to still walk with Cassandra around the lanes she loved so well, being a confessed “desperate walker”.
To the rear of the Bakehouse are new additions to the museum complex. New rooms where lectures and receptions can be held. The museum has been in need of these facilities for years and I am so glad that they now have a splendid space in which to raise funds and educate.
If we go under the great yew tree at the side of the house we then arrive at the garden proper…..
…past the entrance to the house and the Gothic window…..
To look out onto the garden, covered in snow… looking towards the lane that leads to Chawton House.
And the lovely Regency- style tree seat…a pleasant spot in summer but chilly now….
If we turn back toward the house, this time we shall enter by the door on the left……
…into the newly refurbished kitchen……
With its restored range
…where the Austen’s meals would have been prepared…..
And where the laundry would have been ironed…..
And the griddle where scores would have been made
Some early 19th century pearlware in the “Two Trees” pattern..waiting for some Twinings tea……
This is the view from the kitchen towards the Bakehouse and the old barn which is now the entrance to the museum and a wonderfully stocked shop,where certain purchases were made for next year’s AO Great Anniversary Giveaway (D.V.)
The kitchen was restored with the help and excellent advice of Peter Brears,whose new book about jellies I reviewed here last week. And there are some wonderful early 19th century jelly moulds on show in the kitchen on a small sideboard…
Including a lovely pineapple…….
Martha Lloyd’s recipe book is of course one of the treasures of the museum. Her recipes must have been prepared in this room. It’s all rather wonderful to think that her recipes and the room are now all in working order and available for us to see, food being such an important part of Jane Austen’s novels and letters.
If we leave the cosy kitchen and the garden we look out onto the road that now leads to the Selbourne road, with the Greyfriars pub on the right….
And we come to the front of the house ,where the Austen’s blocked up one of the windows in order to give them more privacy. And where there are now two plaques: one commemorating Mr Carpenter who gave the house to the Jane Austen Memorial Trust.
And this rather beautiful tablet with its apt wording:
lived here from 1809-1817
and hence all her works
Were sent to the world
Her admirers in this country
and in America have united
to erect this tablet.
Such art as hers
Can never grow old
And that ends my Christmas jaunt around Jane Austen’s House Museum for this time. I thought you might like to see it in its winter and Christmas finery,a change from the summer pictures we see all the time. I am planning to go back next year,so there will be some more conventional images for you to see then ;)
Last week on the anniversary of Jane Austen’s Birthday we toured the ground floor of her Chawton home, now the Jane Austen House Museum. Shall we now mount these small stairs to visit the upstairs rooms? It’s allowed…Yes, let’s…
On the way up we pass this window looking out onto the Bakehouse and the garden to the rear of the house.
The central corridor leads you towards three rooms on the left and two rooms on the right. Let’s go first left…..
and into a room full (full!) of Austen family relics.
This fine portrait of John Austen hangs in pride of place over the fireplace. He was Jane Austen’s great- great- grandfather,and was remembered in the family for his miserly treatment of his windowed daughter…shades of Sense and Sensibility.
There are so many treasures in this room, I’ve decided to show you only a few…….this post will be long enough as it is and you are all busy people….
One of the most touching treasures is a small lock of the Reverend George Austen’s hair, taken after his death in Bath in 1805, and kept in a small parcel of paper labelled by Jane Austen as “My father’s hair”…
A book of Jane’s eldest brother, James’ poetry, in his own hand
Jane’s ivory cup and ball, at which she was very skilled, and some ivory spillikins,again a dexterous game at which she excelled….
Some baby’s caps……familiar items to the lady below…..
Susannah Sackree, “Caky”, the nursemaid to Edward Austen Knight’s children at Godmersham…..
…and a copy of her prayerbook….bound in red leather…
Silhouettes of General and Lady Jane Matthews, the parents of Anne Matthews who was James Austen’s first wife and mother to Anna Austen.
The wonderful receipt book of Martha Lloyd, completed in many different hands…..
Jane Austen’s copy of Mentoria,which she remembered when writing Mansfield Park.
Into the room opposite, facing the garden and not the road…..
With a short exhibit explaining all the different houses where Jane Austen lived in Hampshire and Bath
And glass cases holding more treasure….The needlecase which Jane Austen made for her niece, Louisa
Eliza de Feuillide’s rouge pot, a deliciously tiny porcelain pot decorated in gilt on a dark blue ground
A soft cream silk shawl,an expensive gift to Jane from Mrs Catherine Knight, Edward Austen’s adoptive mother ….
Then to another room across the corridor, overlooking the road, dedicated to the naval brothers….
With Frank Austen’s collapsible cabin bed…..
All neat , ship-shape and Bristol Fashion…..
As he was thought to be the insportaion for Captain Harville in Persuasion, some of his handiwork is on show…..
including a carved writing case thought to have been made by him…
All overlooked by his Admiral, Horatio Nelson, shown here in a commemorative plate dating from 1805.
Then into a tiny adjoining room that is kept in darkness for its contents are very precious. As you walk in a light is automatically switched on and you see the quilt Jane Austen made with her mother and Cassandra
Have you remembered to collect pieces for the patchwork? We are now at a stand-still.
The window at the end of the corridor looks out onto the garden….
and to the road leading to Edward’s home,Chawton House…..
and the Winchester road…….the finger post marking the way….
But if we retrace our steps back along the corridor, we reach a special bedroom….
Jane’s Room, the room she shared with Cassandra from 1809 till she moved to Winchester in July 1817.
Here is a replica of one of the two beds that Mr Austen ordered for Cassandra and Jane in 1794 while they were still living at Steventon, and which has recently been installed at the museum.
The room faces the garden and looks down onto the bakehouse….which you can see with its open door below.
The closet contains a wash bowl and ewer
And the small fireplace has been decked out for the Christmas season….
A whited spotted muslin dress is on show here
A woman can never be too fine while she is in all white
Here is a short video of the room, which give you some idea of its dimensions, I think.
I do hope you enjoyed this second part of the tour. Next, the Gardens and Outbuildings.
Last week I was lucky enough to spend a few days at Chawton, staying in the village that was so important to Jane Austen and her development as a writer, so I thought I’d write about it today, to celebrate the anniversary of the snowy day when she was born in 1775.
And of course I couldn’t visit Chawton without paying yet another visit ( can we ever get enough of this place?) to Jane Austen’s happy Chawton Home, the cottage that from 1809 gave her security and peace and stability. And enabled her to have a productive freedom for eight years. During this period she revised Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey, totally created Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion, and wrote her last piece of fiction, Sandition which was left unfinished at her untimely death in July 1817.
The Cottage was owned by her brother Edward Knight, who owned the Chawton estate. The house was built in the late 17th century, is “L”-shaped, modest in size, and had six bedrooms as well as attics for the staff and storage. It was originally an inn. Edward Knight spent £45 19 shilling on structural alterations to the cottage, and another £35, 6 shillings and 5 pence on plumbing works.
Here is a section from Edward Mogg’s map of the village of Chawton dating from 1814, which shows the position of Jane Austen’s House on the junction of the roads
and here it is with the position of the house marked in blue. (Do note you can enlarge the maps by clicking on them in order to see the detail)
The position of the house on the junction of the roads leading to Winchester, Gosport, and Southampton made it a busy place in the early 19th century, with carriage traffic passing to and from Alton which was the nearest post town…So much so that the Austen ladies (Jane, Cassandra and their mother),and Martha Lloyd who lived with them, decided to fill in one of the drawing room windows that looked out onto the road and added the delightful Gothic window, that you can see above and below.
Shall we go in? Yes, lets…….
The first real room you enter is the drawing-room, one of the two “parlours” that the Austen ladies had. The new Gothic window gave them a view over the garden, which was set to the side of the house, and the Winchester Road which bordered the garden was screened by a high wooden fence to give them more privacy from prying eyes in coaches travelling to Winchester and beyond.
One of my favourite things about visiting the house is that the staff always have appropriate flower arrangements in the house: in spring and summer they have simple small posies of flowers from the garden on show but at this time of the year they always decorate the house as the Austen ladies may have done for Christmas, in common with many other Georgian families. As you can see the drawing-room fireplace is decked with boughs of evergreens, ivy and yew , and some oranges studded with cloves have been added( though the Austen ladies may have preferred not to use oranges this way but to make their store of expensive oranges into wine…)
There is a tremendous atmosphere in the house. It is a mixture of peace and happiness. I love being there and this time I had it all to myself save for the staff on duty. Who are always friendly and knowledgable, but realise you might want just to be quiet and walk around drinking in the atmosphere. They are always very sensitive.
The house is decorated in a way to suggest life as it was lived there from 1809 onwards…..
With small pictures of family places added in a sightly rickety manner on the walls…..
And pieces of costuming often to be found, suggest that someone similarly dressed might have once stood in the room: this is a replica of a morning dress dating from 1810.
The Bookcase contains editions of Jane Austen’s works……I wonder what she would have thought, seeing them on show….
And there is a square piano. Not the one Jane Austen owned, but one similar to it….. From the Drawing Room you pass into the Hallway, with a glimpse of the dining room ahead……
Edward Austen Knight’s Grand Tour Portrait lived in the house for many years but has now been returned to his Great House at Chawton(which is now the Chawton House Library.)During it’s restoration it was found to be much larger than originally thought as the edge had been folded to fit a frame.
Here we can see the restored Edward Knight in his new home, with Steve Lawrence, CEO of Chawton House Library, Sandy Lerner, Chairman of the Trustees, and Richard Knight, Trustee (Photograph by kind permission of Chawton House Library)
A print of the now restored portrait hangs in the passage and it does look much brighter than is used to, and the beautiful detail of the background is clearly revealed, as you can see .
There are always treats to be seen in the display cases in this part of the house…this visit it was one of Jane Austen’s own manuscript music books….Her music notation is a thing of clarity and beauty….and of necessity.
But there is also a portrait of Edward Knight was a child hanging over the fireplace…….no wonder the childless Mr and Mrs Knight were taken with him…..
The Silhouette showing him being presented to them is also on show in this small space…..
Then you go into the cosy dining room……
and where Jane used to write, and revise and write…..her glorious works of art…
….on this humble and very small table……
An object I always find to be a very touching and resonant relict…if only it could talk…..what tales it could tell…
I made a short video of the room…do click on it below…you can hear the upstairs floorboards creak, as one of the attendants had kindly left me on my own to soak up the atmosphere in this room…and then the downstairs boards creaked as I walked about…the silence, however, in this house is not unfriendly. And I think I can understand how Jane Austen loved this place so much, a place which afforded her peace and a regularity of life so that she could write….
The dining table is now denuded of the Wedgwood China that Jane helped Edward Austen choose at Wedgwood’ s showrooms in London…for the set was to be sold today, but failed to reach its auction estimate…I hope some of it makes it back to the house……
The educational elements are sympathetically done: you can see in the pictures the very discreet information boards which are attached to the walls in the rooms……And there is always something new and entertaining to see. This visit there was an exhibition of Rex Whistler’s costume designs for the 1936 stage production of Pride and Prejudice written by Helen Jerome and starring Celia Johnson as Elizabeth Bennet
This is one of the designs for Lady Catherine (above)
And here is another of the designs made up and on display……
The room that used to be a very tiny but wonderfully stocked shop is now a lovely quiet area where you can sit and think….
and read lots of material about Jane Austen. ……and from this room leads to the staircase to the upstairs bedrooms…
…which we shall discover in part 2, in a few days time .
In the meantime, Happy Jane’s birthday to you, from an appropriately snowy Jane Austen’s House Museum.