Monday, 21 July 2014

Gone Too Soon - Jane's last day.

At the dawn of Friday July 18th 1817  the wonderful Jane Austen departed this life. She had moved ,with her beloved sister Cassandra, from Chawton to Winchester in May of that year. The family hoped that Mr. Giles King Lyford, the much respected Surgeon-in- Ordinary at the County Hospital there,  would manage to cure Jane of what might have been Addison's Disease or possibly some form of cancer. The two Austen ladies stayed at 8 College Street, Winchester, where they occupied rooms on the first floor.
Though Jane appeared cheerful and comfortable on the morning of Tuesday July 15th - as shown in the amusing verses she composed about St. Swithin  and Winchester Races - her illness became more severe  that evening.
The last few hours of Jane's life and of her death are recorded in a letter Cassandra sent to her niece Fanny Knight
"Since Tuesday evening, when her complaint returned, there was a visible change, she slept more & much more comfortably... Her looks altered &she fell away... tho' I was then hopeless of a recovery I had no suspicion how rapidly my loss was approaching..She felt herself to be dying about half an hour before she became tranquil and apparently unconscious... When I asked her if there was any thing she wanted, her answer was she wanted nothing but death & some of her words were 'God grant me patience, Pray for me'....  even now in her coffin, there is such a sweet serene air over her countenance as is quite pleasant to contemplate"
'Jane Austen was happy in her family and in her home and the exercise of her great talent must have been a source of happiness. She was learning to feel confidence in her own success... She had no cause to be weary of life and there was much to make it very pleasant to her' (quoted in Fanny Knight's Diaries)
How many more wonderful stories might have come from the pen of Jane Austen but for her tragically early death.

Monday, 7 July 2014

A House for Jane

On July 7th 1809 Jane Austen, her mother, her sister Cassandra and their friend Martha Lloyd moved from Southampton to Chawton in Hampshire. Their new home, known as Chawton Cottage, was offered to his widowed mother and sisters by Edward Austen Knight.  
What a gift - it must have meant everything to the women who, like so many of Austen's heroines, were so reliant on the kindness and goodwill of male relatives. 

It was here that Jane Austen prepared "Sense and Sensibility", " Pride and Prejudice" and "Northanger Abbey" for publication and where she wrote "Mansfield Park", " Emma" and "Persuasion".  As Virginia Woolf would write one hundred years later, having a room of her own, a place to write in, made all the difference to Jane.  Freed from the mundane daily chores, taken care of now by her sister Cassandra, Jane Austen found the space and time to focus on her writing and perfect her art.  

Jane Austen was very happy to return to her beloved Hampshire. Writing  to her brother Frank on July 26th 1809 Jane says:

"Our Chawton home how much we find
Already in it to our mind
And how convinced that when complete
It will all other houses beat
That ever have been made or mended
With rooms concise or rooms distended"

In 1949 the house was donated to the Jane Austen Society (founded by Dorothy Darnell of Alton) by T. Edward  Carpenter , who had bought the house in memory of his son who was killed in World War Two. 

The house was opened as Jane Austen's House Museum in 1949. In it can be seen, among many items of Austen memorabilia, the little mahogany writing table where Jane sat while writing her wonderful works of literature.

A great place for any Austen fan to visit!

By Eileen Collins