Stepping into Jane Austen's world with lesser known Lyme Regis: Part 2 visit Chawton
When their father died, the family moved to Southampton. Shortly afterwards, Edward, Jane’s brother, inherited some estates from the Knight family. One of these estates was Chawton in Alton, Hampshire. Edward moved into the great house (now Chawton House Library) and offered his mother and sisters a large ‘cottage’ rent free, about a quarter of a mile away in the village. They moved in in 1809 and Jane spent the remainder of her life there.
Her writing flourished, and she settled into a happy routine of sitting at her writing table after breakfast, enjoying long walks in the afternoons, then reading, sewing and conversing in the evenings. She was an accomplished pianist, and many of Jane’s heroines in her novels also played the piano.
However, Jane knew how it felt to be a poor relation, and this sense of being slightly outside high society is keenly felt in her novels. She lived always in the company of her parents and siblings, yet enjoyed her fair share of romances, and although never marrying was a fond and willing aunt to her nieces and nephews.
[Extract from Lesser Known Lyme Regis.]
... Diana Shervington is doubly related to Jane as both her grandmothers were grand-daughters of Jane’s brother, Edward. She came to live in Lyme in 1986.
‘When I was young we spent a lot of time at the Dower House, near Chawton in Hampshire, where Jane spent the last 8 years of her life. My cousin Edward inherited Chawton, but he was bored stiff with Jane Austen! He was only interested in sport and said, “Everyone keeps turning up all the time and asking about her. I don’t want to be bothered with all this stuff!” So most of the things that were owned by Jane and her sister Cassandra came down to our Aunt. My brother had some of the larger artefacts such as all the first editions, and as the youngest of the children, some of the smaller, personal things came down to me. I inherited these things when I was 16.
When I first visited Lyme as a young woman, I loved it straight away. I was delighted with Pyne House and was absolutely thrilled to see all the places Jane had described in Persuasion. I’d been very aware of Jane all my life and walked around in a wonderful Jane Austen dream.
I began to take a serious interest in Jane when my children were off my hands. I started researching some of her music books and worked with the founder of the Jane Austen Society. Gradually I came to realise that I could help others by showing them the artefacts and giving talks. I’ve given some of Jane’s things to the Lyme Regis Museum, including some of her embroidery, the set of spillikins and some bone counters with letters on them that Jane probably used to learn her alphabet. I like to think that these things will always stay in Lyme for people to enjoy.’
Jane Austen's cottage (or Chawton cottage) is now a museum – Jane Austen's House Museum – a wonderful place telling the story of Jane and her family. Its furnished rooms contain objects owned by the family, and there is a learning centre with interactive exhibits.
At Chawton, Jane shared a room with her sister Cassandra, with whom she was very close. Neither sister married and tender relationships between sisters are often a part of Jane’s stories. Without central heating, it was quite common to sleep several to a bed. And, interestingly, the bed was made to the exact specifications of each customer.
Jane writes with precision and attention to detail, describing every-day little things vividly. Also, both her brothers were in the Navy and this undoubtedly influenced her writing. Both Mansfield Park and Persuasion have strong naval themes. She doesn’t give many descriptions of her characters’ physical features or clothing – maybe this is intentional, allowing the reader the freedom to create pictures in his or her own mind.
Jane Austen Detectives
Jane Austen Lyme Regis Weekend 16–19 October
Literary Lyme Walking Tours
Regency History blog by Rachel Knowles
Jane Austen Literacy Foundation
Jane Austen Festival in Bath
Lesser Known Lyme Regis is available from Dorset books specialist Roving Press
(www.rovingpress.co.uk, tel 01300 321531).
If you like exploring Dorset, you’ll love our books!
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