This Easter holidays I went away on a short family break to Winchester, and much to my excitement, Winchester and the surrounding area is full of history surrounding Jane Austen. Admittedly, I haven’t read as much Austen as I would have liked yet, but I am aware enough that she is one bad-ass literary woman so I could not wait to discover more about her history.
The idea for this post was actually created by the wonderful Bex – I was sharing my adventure with her when she asked if I was going to make a blog post on it, and the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind! However, I thought it was a great bookish addition to my blog to help break up reviews.
We actually visited these sights in a bit of a weird order depending on what else we were doing that day, but to save confusion I will be mentioning things in chronological order of her life. So without further ado, here is my Jane Austen adventure!
Jane Austen’s House Museum
We actually visited Jane Austen’s house on the last day of our holiday as it is about 20 minutes from Winchester, conveniently on our way home. As you can see from the picture, the house and grounds absolutely gorgeous, as is the whole village.
As it is the 200 year anniversary of Austen’s death, there was an exhibition taking place called ‘Jane Austen in 41 Objects’. This meant there were so many artefacts dotted around the house, displaying certain features of both Austen’s work and personal life. Unfortunately not everything is there at one time due to the objects being passed around different museums throughout the year, but what we did see was fascinating!
Here are some of my favourite objects that we saw:
A first edition of ‘Sense and Sensibility’
Austen actually finished this novel whilst at her home in Chawton, so it was kind of surreal to know that the material was in its original birth place! I also thought it was interesting to note it simply says written by ‘A Lady’ – the limitations placed upon women in that time was just ridiculous, particularly considering that Austen is now one of Britain’s most famous writers!
‘Sense and Sensibility’ is one I have purchased but yet to read, and now I have seen this I am eager to get stuck in!
Austen’s Jewellery and Muslin Shawl
Also on display were some of Austen’s own possessions. The jewellery included her crucifix necklaces, a beaded bracelet, and her famous family turquoise ring. The ring was actually bought by the house for over £150,000! In addition there was muslin shawl which is thought to have been embroidered by Austen herself – the work is so delicate and still in such an excellent condition that you can tell she took great care of it.
This is a patchwork quilt made by Austen, her sister Cassandra, and her mother. It is made of hundreds of pieces, each individually hand-stitched, with 64 different patterns. Like the shawl, it was amazing to know that Austen dedicated so much time to creating such beautiful pieces of art, in not only her writings but her embroidery too. Possibly the most fascinating fact about this quilt is that the diamonds are completely symmetrical on both sides!
Austen’s Writing Table
I think my favourite object in the whole museum was Austen’s writing table. Whilst only the top remains original, it was just mind-blowing to think that this is where she wrote her famous novels – and it was right in front of me?!
There was so much history in one simple object, and it really was rather overwhelming to think of the sheer amount of talent and creativity which bred at this tiny yet remarkable table.
8 College Street, Winchester
This is the house where Jane Austen lived for a few months before she sadly died on the 18th of July, 1817. She moved here with her sister in order to be closer to a hospital, and she had some nephews which attended the college nearby, but sadly her illness was incurable. Unfortunately the house is privately owned, but it was still rather surreal to be standing outside the place where such a historical moment took place.
Due to the 200 year celebrations taking place, opposite this house is a stunning memorial dedicated to Austen. It reads ‘Know your own happiness … Call it hope’, which is such a beautiful quote taken from her novel ‘Sense and Sensibility’.
One memorial which we didn’t get to experience was the Rain Jane trail around Winchester. Late last year, there were quotes painted on the ground which only appeared when it rained, the idea of which sounded absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately, the quotes were only designed to be temporary to represent Austen’s short life, so they were no longer there when we visited, but it is something I would have adored to have seen!
Jane Austen’s Burial Place, Winchester Cathedral
Inside the gorgeous Winchester Cathedral is where Austen is buried, not far from her final resting place in College Street. It is interesting to note that her grave gives no mention to her achievements as a novelist, and it is thought that she was only buried inside the cathedral as her father was a clergyman. Regardless, the words on the grave are beautiful, and give a lovely insight into who Austen was as a person.
In addition, next to the burial was a brass plaque which had been installed in 1900 after her writings had reached full fame. It is placed underneath a memorial window which I sadly did not get a picture of, but it was comforting to know that her achievements as a novelist were later recognised and commended.
And that wraps up my Jane Austen adventure! It was a pleasure to get to see so many places and objects relating to Austen’s life, and I feel like I finally know her history in a lot more detail. If you are an Austen fan, I urge you to go to Winchester and experience these for yourself, as nothing can compare to the real thing!
Now, after this trip I am completely in the mood to read more Austen…