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Jane Austen in Hampshire

Hampshire is Jane Austen country. It is where she was born and where
she lived most of her life; she was proud to be, in her own words, “a
Hampshire born Austen”.

Jane Austen used many other counties – including Somerset, Devon, Kent
and Derbyshire – as backdrops for her novels, but it was Hampshire that
she knew best and it was Hampshire that provided the society from which
she drew her novels’ sharply funny, often poignant and always
brilliantly observed characters.

For fans of Jane Austen, a visit to Hampshire can bring about a new
understanding of the author and her work.


Her early life at Steventon

Jane Austen was born in 1775 at the Rectory in Steventon, a little
village in north-east Hampshire. She was the seventh child of the
rector, Revd George Austen and his wife Cassandra.

Unfortunately the Rectory was demolished long ago, but you can still
visit the charming 13th Century church of St Nicholas where Jane Austen
used to worship, and where you will find a plaque dedicated to her on
the north wall of the nave. Members of the Austen family were rectors
at Steventon from 1759 to 1873 and you will find several of the
family’s graves in the churchyard.

Image © Hampshire Cam

Steventon was Jane Austen’s home for the first 25 years of her life and
it was here that she started her career as a novelist; writing the
first drafts of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and
Northanger Abbey – though none of these works was published during this
time.

In 1801, on her father’s retirement, Jane moved with her parents and
her sister, Cassandra to Bath. Although she enjoyed visiting different
parts of England throughout her life, this was the only time that she
lived outside of the county of Hampshire.

Image © Hampshire Cam

Her literary life at Chawton

In 1806, following the death of her father, the family moved back to
Hampshire – first to Southampton and then in 1809 to Chawton, to the
home that is now the Jane Austen House Museum. This seems to have been
a very happy time for Jane Austen in Hampshire. In July 1809, soon
after moving in, she wrote:
Our Chawton home, how much we find
Already in it, to our mind...
The contentment that Jane Austen found at Chawton provided the
background for the most productive period of her literary life: not
only did she revise Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and
Northanger Abbey, she completed three more novels – Mansfield Park,
Emma and Persuasion and started a fourth, Sanditon.

A visit to the Jane Austen House Museum today gives an insight into the
author’s domestic and literary life. The brick built house is
comfortable but not grand, decorated with pretty elegance and it is
easy to imagine the Austen women living here 200 years ago – Mrs Austen maintaining the garden, Cassandra keeping house and Jane (whose main domestic duty was to get breakfast) writing in the drawing room.

Image © Hampshire Cam

What is perhaps most striking about the home of one of Britain’s
greatest literary talents is that it has no study: Jane Austen wrote in
the family drawing room and relied on the (now infamous) creaking door
to warn her when visitors were approaching. When she heard the door
creak, she would hide her papers away; which tells us a lot about what
it was like to be a woman writer at the time.

Although, as Jane Austen said herself, her family were “great
novel-readers and not ashamed of being so”, writing novels was, for a
woman, ‘not quite the thing’. All Jane Austen’s novels that appeared
during her lifetime were published anonymously, merely bearing the
legend ‘By a Lady’.


Her death in Winchester

In 1817, midway through writing Sanditon, Jane Austen became very ill
with what is now thought to have been Addison’s Disease and was
referred her to a doctor in Winchester where she moved – along with her
sister Cassandra – into lodgings in College Street (her stay there is
commemorated by a blue plaque). She died there just a few weeks later
on 18 July 1871, aged 41.

Image © Hampshire Cam

Jane Austen was buried in the north aisle of Winchester Cathedral. Just
as her novels were published anonymously, the inscription on her tomb
there makes no mention of her career as a writer, though a brass plaque
added at a later date acknowledges that she was “known to many by her
writings”.

Although Hampshire has seen many changes since Jane Austen’s time, much remains that she would recognise.

You can get a real feel for what it was like to be Jane Austen in
Hampshire from a visit to her home in Chawton and St Nicholas Church at
Steventon. But there are other places in Hampshire that fans of the
author may like to visit, for example:
* the impressive National Trust-owned property, The Vyne, where she
used to go to dance;
* the ruins at Netley Abbey, visited by the Austens on family
excursions;
* and Beaulieu Abbey which the family used to pass on boat trips to the
New Forest.

Hampshire’s quiet country lanes and undeveloped stretches of coastline
– as well as the New Forest itself – also give us a hint of what life
was like for Jane Austen in Hampshire 200 years ago.


Some places to visit associated with Jane Austen in Hampshire:

* Jane Austen's House Museum, Chawton, Alton. Tel: 01420 83262,
www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk

* Winchester Cathedral, tel: 01962 857200,
www.winchester-cathedral.org.uk

*The Vyne, Sherborne St John, Basingstoke. Tel: 01256 883858,
www.nationaltrust.org.uk

* Beaulieu Abbey, Beaulieu, nr Brockenhurst. Tel: 01590 612345,
www.beaulieu.co.uk

* Netley Abbey, Netley, nr Southampton. Tel: 02392 378291,
www.english-heritage.org.uk

* Steventon Church




Jane Austen in Hampshire





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