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Pride And Prejudice

Jane Austen's House

Jane Austen's House in Chawton, Hampshire, gives a real taste of the life she led. The pretty 17th century building, where she revised "Pride And Prejudice", is now a museum for items connected with the author and her family. There are some very personal possessions on show, including jewellery, letters and her will.

Jane Austen's House Chawton, Hampshire
Jane Austen's home, Chawton in Hampshire
©TopFoto.co.uk/UPP
Jane moved to the village in 1809 with her widowed mother and sister, and it is where she remained for the last eight years of her life. Until she was settled at the house none of her work had been published, but the peaceful and secure period she lived there was to be the most productive of her life. As well as Pride And Prejudice, she revised Sense And Sensibility and then wrote Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion.


The Drawing Room, in particular, shows the very genteel way the Austen family would have spent the day. There is a 1810 Clementi piano similar to the one Jane would have practised on every morning before breakfast, and it is the room where the ladies would entertain visitors. After dinner, they would retire there to sew or paint, while one of them read aloud from the latest novel borrowed from the circulating library. 


Jane had high-ranking family members, and on show at the house are topaz crosses given to Jane and her sister by their brother Charles, a Rear Admiral in the Navy. He bought them with prize money awarded for capturing a French vessel during  the Napoleonic Wars.


Ghost writer


The object at the house that gives an almost ghostly sense of Jane Austen's literary life is her small writing table in the Dining Parlour. Anyone who sees it can just imagine her gazing out of the window while sitting there.


It would have been frowned upon for a lady of the gentry to make a living out of a profession such as writing, so Jane wrote in secret. The "creaking door" of the dining room would warn her when someone was entering, and she would hide the manuscripts for all those now famous novels, including Pride And Prejudice.


A calculation of Jane's earnings from writing is displayed on the wall. It shows that she received £808 – the equivalent of £40,000 today. 


A sense of realism


Louise West, education officer at Jane Austen's House, told ICONS she thinks Pride And Prejudice is iconic for very good reason. 


“The relationships portrayed in the book are not black and white – it's not all good and all bad. Jane Austen created two sparky central characters that fall passionately in love, but within the book there are very realistic relationships and realistic choices.


“People say that Jane Austen was the first psychological novelist and I think that's true. She goes into the reasons why characters make the choices they do – there is a real depth of characterisation.


Pride And Prejudice is iconic because it's this very wonderful love story set among very real people that we can all relate to, even now.”


Proof that people are still fans of the story nearly 200 years later, is the popularity of the film adaptation in 2005 and the BBC six-part series in 1995, both of which have resulted in increased numbers visiting the house.


People are eager to see items relating to Jane's writing, and there are bookcases containing some first editions of her novels, her manuscript letters, and correspondance containing admiring comments about her novels by Sir Walter Scott and Sir Winston Churchill.


Jane's last days

Chawton House and Church. Oil painting, 1809
An oil painting of Chawton House and church, dated 1809
©TopFoto.co.uk

In 1816, Jane Austen became ill with Addison's disease, a tubercular disease of the kidneys, and in May 1817 she and her sister Cassandra rented rooms in Winchester to be nearer to her physician. In the Old Bakehouse at Chawton is Jane's donkey carriage that she used when she was too weak to travel far on foot. There was no cure for the illness and she died on July 18, 1817, aged 41. Jane's sad decline is well documented at the house. There is a copy of her will on show, a very moving letter written by Cassandra to their niece Fanny about Jane's death, and a poem by Jane herself written three days before she died.


After her death the house was lived in by Mrs Austen and Cassandra until Mrs Austen died in 1827. Cassandra remained there alone until she died in 1845, when the house was divided into three cottages for farm workers.


One hundred years later, the house was bought by Mr T Edward Carpenter. He founded the Jane Austen Memorial Trust which owns and runs the house that was first opened as a museum in 1949.