Tuesday 6 July 2010

Why do we want to visit Chawton?

Why do people want to visit Chawton, the place where Jane Austen lived?
Sunday 20th November 1808 Jane writes to Cassandra from Castle Square:
(Jane, her mother and Cassandra are contemplating their move from Southampton to Chawton. )

“There are six bedchambers at Chawton; Henry wrote to my mother the other day,& luckily mentioned the number-which is just what we wanted to be assured of. He also speaks of Garrets for Store places, one of which she immediately planned for fitting up for Edward’s manservant- & now perhaps it must be for our own- for she is already quite reconciled to our keeping one. The difficulty of doing without one had been thought of before. - His name shall be Robert if you please.”
The coach parties arrive. The car park is used by visitors, families, groups of friends, individuals who have found their own way there.

So why do they come to Chawton, the last home of Jane Austen?

They have invariably read Pride and Prejudice or one of the other novels or all of them. They know a little about Jane Austen’s life already.

What does actually going to Chawton do for somebody?

They walk on the very ground that Jane walked on. They go inside the cottage that Jane inhabited and are surrounded by the walls of brick that enclosed Jane’s slight frame. They walk and stand in the same spaces she stood and moved in. They fill the spaces where she laughed and thought and wrote and slept and argued and loved and hated.

They can’t become Jane even if they wish for that. They can’t become the writer she was though they may want to be.

Imagination plays a large part and the imagination feeds on knowledge of Jane’s life, her stories and the period she lived, the things she used and touched.

What does the visitor come away with? It has been a pleasure to be where Jane had been. Maybe they marvel at her circumstances. Maybe they try to work out how she functioned in this environment. They empathise. The final thing they come away with is a closer emotional relationship with Jane.

They have seen, they have felt, they have thought.


  1. Your images of Chawton Cottage in a previous post and in your English Garden post for Jane Austen Today, Tony, have me salivating to go and see the cottage for myself. I particularly love the image of the staircase to the right of this blog, and can imagine Jane standing aside in the alcove as Cassandra passes her on the stairs.

    I just read a post by a person who wrote about Jane's use of the verb 'to be' and her passive voice, and felt like writing, 'Yeah, well, she's a genius and you're not!' - Vic

  2. I haven't been to Chawton, but I would like to go. When I visit these places, I try to picture what it was like for the person who lived there. What did they see out their window? How close were they to the village? their neighbors? their church? It might also plant a little seed that may grow into a New York Times Bestseller. (I wish!)

  3. I would definitely second all this - it's an experience of 'being Jane' for a day.

    I love the photo of the staircase on the right! Can remember the creekiness of the stairs...