Three of the For Romance Readers ‘team’ have just spent a very enjoyable weekend on the Jane Austen trail – following in her footsteps, if you like.
Elizabeth Hanbury, Georgia Hill and I joined a lovely group of C19 ‘colleagues’ in Hampshire. About 40 of us visited Winchester Cathedral and saw Jane’s grave and memorial plaque, then had a guided tour of her haunts round about. ‘Haunts’ is the operative word as one of the more poignant stops was outside the house in College Street where she spent her last weeks. We then followed the path of her small funeral procession to the Cathedral. Cassandra had to stay behind, as women weren’t allowed at funerals in those days. We know from her letters that she was devastated at the loss of her beloved sister: ‘She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow.’
We saw Chawton, Jane’s home for the last eight years of her life, at its best the next day in the spring sunshine. It’s a charming village in its own right, without the added attractions of Jane Austen. It was here that Jane wrote Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion, revised Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility, and started Sanditon. Her house, now the Jane Austen Museum, is ‘very happily situated’ on the Winchester road and we know she and the other members of her household – Cassandra, Mrs Austen and Martha Lloyd – enjoyed speculating about the passing traffic. Her brother Edward had a huge house on the outskirts of the village next to the church, where we visited the graves of Cassandra and Mrs Austen.
Highly recommended – and there should be more events than usual this year as the Jane Austen Museum is celebrating the 200th anniversary of Jane’s arrival in Chawton!