Literary Excursion: Joining Jane

Joining Jane - Chawton, Hampshire

It was only a matter of time, friends. Long time (or, let’s face it, short time) followers of The Book Habit will already be well aware that there is one author whose works occupy a particularly significant place in my life. I speak, of course, of Jane Austen. The subject of my first foray into the world of classic literature, at the tender age of 12, Pride and Prejudice continues to dominate my list of favourite novels (beaten out of the top spot only by Charlotte Bronte’s masterpiece, Jane Eyre). Jane Austen’s works provoke adoration across the globe – inspiring adaptations, dating ‘how to’ guides, festivals, and book clubs. Alongside the likes of Charles Dickens and the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen is viewed as in many ways synonymous with Britain of the 1800s. Yet it is the continued relevance of her works, combined with a desire to recapture the romance and traditions they depict, that makes Jane Austen worthy of admiration. That and the creation of Mr. Darcy, of course.

A visit from my mum and a day to spare could mean only one thing, a Literary Excursion opportunity. As two devoted Jane Austen fans, there was only really one place we could possibly choose to visit – Jane Austen’s house in Chawton, Hampshire.

Jane occupied the house in Chawton, along with her mother and two sisters, from 1809 until 1817. The house was passed to them by Jane’s brother Edward, who inherited a large estate through a complex set of family arrangements. It is from this house that Jane published all of her major works, including Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1816).

Jane was, however, forced to leave Chawton in May 1817 due to illness. She took up a house in Winchester. It is in Winchester that Jane died in July 1817, and she is buried in Winchester Cathedral.

Jane’s house has been turned into a beautifully laid out museum. Containing a number of original artefacts relating to Jane’s life and work, this destination is a must for any Austen fan.

Jane’s Writing Desk
Illustrations from Pride and Prejudice

Dedicated followers of The Book Habit will also be well aware that I have a slight (*cough*) obsession with the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. It is for this very reason that: (1) I have a deep seated hatred of Keira Knightley and everything she represents; and (2) Lakes make me very excited indeed. So imagine my INTENSE excitement to discover Jane Austen’s House Museum is currently playing host to a number of costumes from the world’s best literary adaptation.

One of Colin Firth’s Darcy costumes. SO much love.
One of Jennifer Ehle’s Elizabeth Bennet costumes.
Elizabeth Bennet’s day dress.
And, of course, my absolute favourite:
Colin Firth’s Darcy wedding outfit.
Believe it or not, this is me containing myself.

This day of mother-daughter Jane Austen excitement was an absolute dream. For any Austen devotee, seeing the house in which her masterpieces were produced is an unimaginably powerful experience. To walk in her footsteps is beyond fantastic, and the closest it is possible to come to seeing the world through her eyes. The effort that has gone in to replicating the house as it would have been at the time of her occupation is astounding. That the place is also full of relics and memorabilia makes it all the more impressive. Even if you find yourself walking the house with more composure than I was able to demonstrate, you will undoubtedly find yourself periodically squealing with excitement.

And once you have investigated every nook and cranny of the house, you can make a stop in the fabulous little tea room, Cassandra’s Teacup. A cream tea undoubtedly makes for the perfect end to the perfect day.

So, fellow Austenites, get yourselves to Chawton. Perhaps you will find yourselves inspired to write the Pride and Prejudice of the modern age, or maybe you will even stumble into your own Mr. Darcy. At the very least, you will have a truly fantastic day of Jane Austen devotion – the perfect celebration of one of the world’s greatest authors.

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