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jane austen

The plaque on the wall at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire.

Today, I went to Chawton to visit the Jane Austen’s House Museum and Chawton House, and it was really quite a revelation. Of course, I write more about Virginia Woolf, but I’ve always admired Austen’s writing and can feel my interest in her life and work increasing since I bought an edition of her letters.

Woolf, as was her wont, wrote about Austen, but in this case, it was a glowing report:

The balance of her gifts was singularly perfect. Among her finished novels there are no failures, and among her many chapters few that sink markedly below the level of the others. But, after all, she died at the age of forty-two. She died at the height of her powers… Vivacious, irrepressible, gifted with an invention of great vitality, there can be no doubt that she would have written more, had she lived, and it is tempting to consider whether she would have written differently.

Essay in The Common Reader, Virginia Woolf.

Although my visit occurred at the same time as a large group of international students (on the whole, they were mostly well-behaved), I enjoyed seeing the place where Jane lived, and I will be back to take advantage of the year-round ticket.

Having finished my short visit to the house museum, I decided to have a look at Chawton House, which lies further up the road from the museum. This was owned by Jane’s brother, Edward, and it was also somewhere that Jane visited on a regular basis during her time in the village. What struck me first was the long driveway up to the house, and the building itself looming in the distance, gradually becoming grander as I got closer. Thankfully, much emptier of international students, I was able to enjoy a relaxed and peaceful walk around the rooms.

I don’t know what I was expecting when I went into the house, but I definitely wasn’t expecting the library. Oh. My. Word. To enter the library, you have to knock on the door to be let in, which is exciting in itself. But then to go in and see about 3,000 books on the walls around you is truly breathtaking. Apparently, they aren’t the only books in the collection, with the most treasured ones locked away safely. The room was dark, presumably to help protect the books. This collection seems to be unique in the fact that it holds mostly women writers from 1600 to 1830. Having written about Woolf (obviously, much later) and to have studied many women writers, this is an absolute treasure trove and I would have loved to have looked at all the ones I could get my hands on, but alas, they are not to be touched unless being studied.

I could really see exciting things that could be done with books and information from this library, and I’m already planning on returning to do some studying. Thankfully, some of the novels have been digitised and are online, and I’m sure that there are countless women writers who have books in the library that have been forgotten about nowadays. Even with just a short look at the online information, I’m already fascinated by Jane Taylor, a poet who wrote the words to ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’. Along with her sister Ann, Jane seems to have written a lot of poetry and some prose, including a novel, Display. It appears that a nephew of Jane wrote a memoir of his aunt, and it would be super to find a copy of this (already found on the web) and see if anything further could be researched and added to the story of the sisters.

What does sound interesting is that the library now is without a librarian, as he has just left. They may be advertising in the future. My goodness, I think I’d jump at the chance!

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