Hampshire's Ode to Jane Austen
After completing another Austen-related trail in Kent, our return journey took us through the glorious countryside of the South Downs National Park. As we entered the ancient market town of Petersfield, we noticed a sign that couldn't be missed. Upon closer inspection we read the words,"Hampshire - Welcome to Jane Austen Country".
Jane Austen was born in 1775 in the small village of Steventon in Hampshire, she was immersed in a wonderfully loving family that encouraged education and learning. Her father, the Reverend George Austen was greatly influential in Jane's love of reading and writing. He encouraged Jane and her sister, Cassandra to extend their education by sending them to boarding school in Oxford, Southampton and to the Abbey School in Reading. They gained much through their social education participating in plays and drama productions.
In 1785, Jane and Cassandra returned permanently to their Steventon home to be with their family and friends. Nearby in the villages of Ashe and Deane, Basingstoke, provided the backdrop to their social activities. Jane enjoyed a carefree life in the Hampshire countryside visiting friends, attending dances and observing life all around her. These social interactions provided her with interesting material for her writing. In 1801, her life in Hampshire came to an abrupt halt, when her parents retired and decided to take the family to live in Bath.
Jane periodically visited Bath on holiday, but living there on a full time basis proved to be a different matter particularly after her father's death in 1805. Life for the Austen women became financially difficult moving several times eventually living in the less salubrious location of Trim Street. Living in Bath had been trying for Jane and impacted greatly on her writing. Despite this, her experiences and observations in Bath were incorporated into her carefully crafted work.
In 1809, the Austen's left Bath for good and returned to Hampshire to live in the cottage on the Chawton Estate given to them by Jane's brother Edward Austen-Knight. Shortly after their arrival to Chawton in July 1809, Jane wrote fondly of her new home in a letter to her brother, Frank and his wife Mary, congratulating them on the safe arrival of their new son. Accompanying the letter was a short poem expressing her happiness in her new Chawton home. Jane felt alive again and immersed herself in writing, completing and editing her novels; Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Emma.
Jane Austen's return to Hampshire heralded a poignant period in her writing career, achieving publishing success as an author with John Murray and rekindling her Hampshire connections. Sadly in 1815, Jane Austen's success was short lived, as she became very ill. By 1817, her debilitating illness resulted in her moving to Winchester to be closer to her physician. Jane subsequently died on 18th July, 1817. Her literary achievement was recognised and honoured by being laid to rest in Winchester Cathedral.
From birth to writing and publishing success, to her sad untimely death, Jane Austen can truly lay claim as being one of the greatest female writers. Is it any wonder that Hampshire likes to claim Jane Austen as their own, after all she was a Hampshire girl!
Stepping into Jane Austen's world with lesser known Lyme Regis: Part 2 visit ChawtonNext Article
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