Recently Amanda Grange and I had a lovely day out at Jane Austen's House Museum - don't you think we look very much at home? Jane Austen moved to Chawton, a large cottage on her brother Edward's estate in July 1809. It was possibly a former coaching inn at one time and in Jane's day was a busier place as coaches rumbled past the windows day and night. One of Jane's nieces remembered how comforting it was 'to have the awful stillness of night frequently broken by the sound of many passing carriages, which seemed sometimes even to shake the bed' - perhaps not a sentiment that would be enjoyed by many today. Jane Austen looked forward to the move. After her father's death in Bath, their circumstances had been greatly reduced and eventually they had moved to Southampton to live with one of the sailor brothers. An opportunity for a home of their own for the Austen women was not a chance to be passed up, and Jane looked forward to buying a piano again instead of renting one as she had had to do in Bath and Southampton. '...as good a one as can be got for thirty guineas, and I will practise country dances, that we may have some amusement for our nephews and nieces, when we have the pleasure of their company.'
Jane's sister-in-law thought the rector of Chawton, Mr Papillon, might be a suitable marriage prospect for Jane. In a letter Jane joked about it in typical fashion - 'depend upon it that I will marry Mr Papillon, whatever may be his reluctance or mine.'
Jane and her sister Cassandra became increasingly responsible for running the household. Mrs Austen devoted herself to the garden and needlework. When the sisters were at home it was Jane's responsibility to make the breakfast and to order tea, sugar and look after the wine stores. When Jane came down in the morning she would start the day with practising on her piano so as not to disturb the others later on. She would then put the kettle on and make the breakfast. Cassandra took care of all the other household chores giving Jane invaluable time to write. It was at Chawton that she started to revise the books she had already written - Elinor and Marianne, which became Sense and Sensibility, and First Impressions, which became Pride and Prejudice. Though callers could see her writing through the window a creaky door gave her warning when anyone was about to enter the room. She would cover her work and was able to keep her writing secret.
The house remains largely unchanged today. It is still possible to wander through the sitting room, dining room and bedrooms where Jane walked and worked, and to see examples of clothing and jewellery that belonged to her. Recently, the kitchen has been renovated, and there is a new bookshop which sells not only a wonderful selection of books, but lots of other momentoes and souvenirs.
Walking through the village gives a sense of going back in time, and a walk to the 'Great House' where her brother Edward and his family lived must have very similar views to the ones back then with old cottages lining the road. At the church you can find the graves of Jane's sister and mother. I always feel it's rather sad that Jane is buried in Winchester away from them and far from the place that she loved.
We had a lovely day out - it's a place I never tire of going to see!