Saturday, October 25, 2008

Jane Austen's home at Chawton and another painting of Jane

Here is another painting of Jane Austen which I'd forgotten about and came across whilst looking for something else, inspired, as ever, by Cassandra's sketch. The little painting that Cassandra produced is very delicate when seen close to and I have attempted a similar effect. However, Cassandra's brushwork was so fine that I found I could not produce anything like the sort of detail she managed in her lovely watercolour, but as I'm sure those of you who visit my blog regularly know, that does not stop me trying to improve!

Jane Austen lived at Chawton from 1809 until just before she died in 1817. I thought you might like to see this unusual view (at the bottom of the page) of the house from the garden. There are several outbuildings; two barns in the courtyard have been converted into a lecture room which houses a changing exhibition. The garden in Jane's day was much larger than it is now. There was an orchard, a shrubbery, a vegetable garden and a field where the donkeys were kept. Jane's donkey carriage can still be seen in the Bakehouse.
The garden is still kept beautifully today and has many of the plants, trees and shrubs which Jane mentioned in her letters - columbines, mignonette, syringa, lilac, laburnum, pinks and sweet williams, as well as old roses. I think Jane enjoyed being in the garden, perhaps sitting to read a book or taking a walk, but I think the real gardeners in the family were Mrs Austen and Cassandra. Jane did write to Cassandra about her plantings when she was away. In one letter (May1811) she writes, "The chicken are all alive and fit for the table, but we save them for something grand. Some of the flower seeds are coming up very well, but your mignonette makes a wretched appearance. Miss Benn has been equally unlucky as to hers. She has seed from four different people, and none of it comes up. Our young piony at the foot of the fir-tree has just blown and looks very handsome, and the whole of the shrubbery border will soon be very gay with pinks and sweet-williams, in addition to the columbines already in bloom.
The syringas, too, are coming out. We are likely to have a great crop of Orleans plumbs, but not many greengages - on the standard scarcely any, three or four dozen, perhaps, against the wall. I believe I told you differently when I first came home, but I can now judge better than I could then.'

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