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Becoming Jane...


Few of us are not acquainted with the books of Jane Austen. After 200 years they are still immensely popular, and people remain fascinated by the author. Recently I visited Austen’s grave in Winchester Cathedral and have been reading Claire Tomalin’s excellent biography of Jane, ‘Jane Austen: A Life’.


Jane Austen's House in Chawton, Hampshire

Photo: Roy Nicholls


The Jane Austen Museum, Chawton

Photo: Roy Nicholls


Sadly, Steventon Rectory, where Jane Austen was born and spent much of her early life, was demolished in the early 19th century and the house in Winchester, where she died in 1817, is not open to the public, so fans of the author visit Austen's House Museum, a small independent museum in the village of Chawton near Alton in Hampshire. The museum occupies the 17th-century house (informally know as Chawton Cottage), where Jane Austen edited and wrote 6 of her novels and spent the last eight years of her life.


The dedication Thomas Edward Carpenter, to his son, Philip, killed in Italy in 1944

Photo: Roy Nicholls


The house was previously home to local farmers, was briefly a public house, The New Inn, between 1781 and 1787, and, bizarrely, the site of two murders. Eventually, the cottage was a gift of Jane's brother, Edward Austen Knight, to allow his mother and sisters to have a permanent residence. Jane Austen lived in the house with her mother, her sister Cassandra and a long-time family friend, Martha Lloyd, from 7 July 1809 until May 1817, when because of illness she moved to Winchester to be near her physician. She died in Winchester on 18 July 1817, though her mother and sister continued to live in the house until their deaths in 1827 and 1845. When she arrived at Chawton, Austen had already written three novels in draft form (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey), and it is likely that she revised these novels at the house before getting them published. In addition, it was here that she wrote Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion.


Photo: Roy Nicholls


The house was sold by a descendant of Jane’s in 1948 to Thomas Edward Carpenter, who gave it to the Jane Austen Memorial Trust in memory of his son, Lieutenant Philip John Carpenter, of the 1st Battalion East Surrey Regiment, 'who fell whilst leading his men at Trasimene, Italy, the 30th day of June 1944, aged 22'.


The Kitchen

Photo: Roy Nicholls


The rooms in the house have many items from the Austen family and several dresses worn by Anne Hathaway in the 2007 movie, Becoming Jane, and given to the Museum Trust

Photo: Roy Nicholls


The Breakfast Room

Photo: Roy Nicholls


The house is both a fascinating insight into the life of Jane Austen, but also a wonderful example of an 18th-century household. There are many artefacts directly connected with Jane, including eight music books owned by Jane Austen, with pieces transcribed in her own hand, a Muzio Clementi pianoforte (dated 1813), a Hepplewhite bureau-bookcase containing several of her works, and the small, round table where she did much of her writing. The museum also has a collection of other Austen family items and furniture.


Jane Austen's Bedroom, that she shared with her sister Cassandra

Photo: Roy Nicholls

Jane Austen's bed

Photo: Roy Nicholls


The small writing table where Jane Austen edited and wrote many of her novels

Photo: Roy Nicholls


The house is just a couple of miles from the market town of Alton, where there is a main-line railway station, and a visit to the house could be included with a visit to the cathedral city of Winchester. In 2021 I will be offering a combined Chawton and Winchester day tour.

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