Jane Austen’s Eden

Jane Austen’s embroidery. Photo: Kaye Bewley

Everyone says the world is speeding up and it always has a habit of flying by way too fast when you’re having fun!  But, a visit to Jane Austen’s home slowed the clock down a little.  

LOW BORN?

After many years of being an avid fan of Jane Austen, it was a delight to be able to visit her house Hampshire.  Upon arrival, it wasn’t quite what I expected.  In her books, Ms Austen mentions (often) that the family is poor.  In fact, many of her characters are of ‘low-born stock’ who make good upon the marriages they forge.

If you were to compare the size of the cottage she and her family lived in to, say, the Hall just down the road, her home could be termed a small dwelling.  But, not as small as the other ‘cosy’ cottages dotted around the village of Chawton.

Cottages in Chawton, Photo: Kaye Bewley

Together, the tiny buildings sit cosily butted against each other, a ‘chocolate box’ assortment of red brick walls, leaded windows, and weather-beaten thatch, grey slate or rich terracotta tile.  White picket fences and hinged stable doors, complete the picture of an Olde England life lived long ago.

Chawton is a place where farmer’s hands and maids of the manor once went to rest after a day’s hard graft.  Today, the TV aerials, telegraph wires and smooth tarmac roads attempt to ruin this idyllic picture, but it’s easy to imagine life lived in this village in the 1800s.

A WRITER’S DEN

Inside Ms Austen’s cottage, the features are bare and minimal but practical and functional.  They good for the book-reading tourist of the new millennium to wander round at leisure.

Imagining Ms Austen and how she lived when she wrote, especially during the winter months, brings a slight chill to the body.  It’s the grey flagstone floor, covered by a harsh hessian rug, and the old tin pots that hang above a bricked cooking area which make it appear cold and old.  The stove burning away must have been the only source of warmth.

Jane Austen’s writing desk – Photo: Kaye Bewley

Of course, the delicate gold-rimmed porcelain and crystal glassware set carefully on a white linen cloth, embroidered by Jane’s fingers herself, give a hint of fine living and comfort.  But it is Ms Austen’s writing desk that is a special feature.

 

Unwilling to vacate the area too soon, I paused for a few moments to soak in the 200 years since she had sat at it.

 

As a writer in today’s society, it’s easy for me to use the ‘Del’ key when I make a mistake or if I want to change a sentence.  But in the early 1800s, Ms Austen sat at that beautiful desk, her feathered quill scratching across a piece of parchment by candlelight.

 

Have you tried to write with a quill?  It is very difficult indeed!

 

I wondered about the patience needed to complete her tales.  Her determination to get just the right phrase.  The dedication she needed to fill her head with a plot and a plan and all the characters she needed to spin the tale of manners and etiquette.

Conjuring up images of a different world far removed from the one I inhabit isn’t that difficult when you step through her home and, those re-writes!  They must have been an absolute pain.

HISTORY IS NO MYSTERY

Time inevitably speeds on by, with our televisions and laptops, mobile phones and iPads, but here in Chawton, in Austen’s home, time appears to have stopped.

No phones rang.  No person spoke to another miles away through airwaves Ms Austen would have been hard pushed to imagine.

The stillness of time while stood in Austen’s Eden forces you to stop.  It encourages you to think, to contemplate and to imagine a life lived in a time long ago.

Kaye Bewley

 

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