Jane Austen

On our last day in England in the spring of 2012, just a few hours before boarding the Queen Mary 2 for our trip home, we stopped to visit Jane Austen’s house in a little country town called Chawton. I can’t say we saved the best for last, because everything we saw was “best.”  But this house was wonderful and better than I ever imagined it could be.  It’s in Hampshire, centrally located in the south of  England (very close to Southampton) — you can see it on the map on page six of A FINE ROMANCE.

First off, you have to know how this quiet neighborhood sounded this day!  The only sound missing is “my-toe-hurts-bet-tee” the nature national anthem of England, but there were wood pigeons cooing liltingly from every branch!

This is the 17th century house where Jane Austen did some of her most important work.  She lived here from 1809 to 1817, and published four novels during that time, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Mansfield Park.

How beautiful!  Let’s go find a parking space!

After parking, we walked for a little bit through the leafy old neighborhood and something interesting happened.  I took a picture of this little Jack Russell in a window of the house across the street from Jane’s and posted it here on the blog.  Later, after we returned home, I received an email from the owner of this house!  Her name is Mary and the dog’s name is Basil!  Mary had just happened upon our blog.  Isn’t that amazing? What a small world!  She’s actually written a cute children’s book about Basil which she sent to me . . . you can see more photos of Basil and read about the book HERE.

 Many of the homes in Chawton have thatched roofs like Mary’s.  It’s a darling town ~ and we only had one afternoon. I wish we’d saved more time for this ~ there’s a lot of wonderfulness to see here.  Keep that in mind for when you go and have at least one full day.

There are many rose-covered cottages and lots of old brick . . .

 This is the pub across the street from Jane’s house . . . in case you’d like a bite when you get done, or a peah ci-da. In case?  Don’t you love the flower boxes?

On the corner, directly across from the house, you can stop for tea in this wonderful tea room called “Cassandra’s Cup” — named for both Jane’s beloved sister and her mother (Her mother was Cassandra Leigh Austen — gorgeous name).  I’ve decided if I ever have a lamb in this lifetime, I will name it Cassandra.

So here we go, are you ready?  I was so excited to be here, I had to remind myself not to run someone over, be a calm, quiet, mannerly American which was actually quite easy since that’s just how we are.

Run mad as often as you chuse, but do not faint.   Jane Austen

We had to go into the gift shop to get our tickets.  My first question:  ”Can I take pictures inside the house?”  (Not every house we visited allows photography. I really didn’t expect them to say yes;  but I was hoping and praying.)  And then, I heard the magic words, “Yes, You Can!”  I can?  Oh Boy.  Let’s go!

There is no charm equal to tenderness of heart. ♥ Jane Austen

Jane was born in 1775, during the time of King George the III; she was the seventh of eight children in a close family.  Her only sister, Cassandra, was her best friend for life.  She began writing Pride and Prejudice when she was twenty-one, but it was in Chawton House at this shockingly small table that she finished it, here in the breakfast room in front of a sunny window where she wrote and revised her greatest stories.

At this very table.  Her books came right out of her brain, through her hand, onto the paper, one letter at a time. There was no Encyclopedia Britannica at the time, no complete dictionary, no way to do research (no Google!), and very few other novels in existence.  She wrote originally, in the “realistic” style and  made it all up from her own creative, opinionated, witty heart.

“Everything united in her, good understanding, correct opinions, knowledge of the world, and a warm heart.” Jane Austen

We were invited to try writing the way Jane did . . . with a feather quill pen and ink.  They set everything on a table in the kitchen . . . isn’t that fun?   And you can see everyone wanted to give it a try.

 I loved it! But it was much more difficult than I thought it would be.  I can’t imagine writing a whole book with a feather pen!  I bought a feather and ink in the gift shop so I could write in our journal when I got home.  You can see what I did on page 235 of A FINE ROMANCE (the diary I wrote when we were in England).  How Jane did whole books this way I will never know.  There could not have been much “rewriting,” because you have to dip the quill in the ink about every two or three letters or it runs dry!  (That may not be true; we have to take into consideration that I was probably doing it wrong.)  You have to blot it too, or your arm will drag through and smear it.  It’s a slow process, but it’s what she knew. That’s how it is with book writing, no matter what you have to do, you just keep going every day until it’s done, and then, voila, one miracle of a day you have a book!  Where there’s a will, there’s a way, goose feather or not.

Before I give you details of the house, let me show you just how charming this chock-full-of-history cottage is.  This is the bedroom that Jane shared with her sister Cassandra.  I like the wallpaper, the little off-center painted fireplace, the mantle with flowers, the simple cupboards, the beautiful old floors . . .  seeing the same view from the windows that Jane and Cassandra had seen.

And this bed. This is a canopy tent bed of the period. Where they didn’t have the exact furniture owned by the Austen family, they used period pieces so we could know what things would have looked like.  Love this bed!  I would like to be twelve years old and have this bed!

 There are bouquets of cut flowers from the garden all over the house; on mantels and window ledges . . . you feel like someone really lives here . . . for some reason, this stairway is the part of the house where I could most feel the presence of Jane Austen.  She must have climbed these stairs thousands of times, her skirts brushing over the wooden steps as she carried her candle up or down them, her shadow would dance on the walls.

From the house you can look across the street to Cassandra’s Tea Room, how convenient to have a tea room so close by!

There are fireplaces in every room, some of them very tiny like this one.  Isn’t it cute?  Wouldn’t you like to warm your feet by this fire? And the wallpaper is perfect.

They’ve put little cards on or next to everything, so you can know what you’re looking at . . .

It’s a house to go slow in, you can feel the respect and reverence from the people who are there as they quietly read everything and pull it all into their hearts for the memory.  One girl came bounding into the room I was in, our eyes met, our shoulders went up, we sighed and shook our heads at how happy we were.  Joy swirled around the room, over the wooden floors, up the walls and hovered above us as a presence.  Neither of us said a word, we just moved on, the experience was perfectly shared without speech.

The people who run the Museum have made it so nice for everyone; it’s all here for the savoring . . .

There are lots of glass cases with personal things belonging to Jane and to her family.

Gorgeous 200+ year old bracelet owned by Jane . . .Wouldn’t you love to have this bracelet?  Look at the detail.  Perfect for a smart, stylish, interesting, funny, flirtatious girl who loved to dance.

She seemed to have the happy gene. 

Another adorable fireplace . . . and lovely period dress . . .

This is not the piano belonging to Jane, but it could have been, and so gorgeous, hand-painted.  The music on the piano was Air Suisse. Perfect!

All the wallpaper you see is Laura Ashley which is very appropriate as many of Laura Ashley’s designs were inspired by antique papers and fabric she saw while visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, maybe even originals from this house.  Wallpaper, something else that adds warmth and charm to the rooms.

This is a fragment of the original wallpaper they found in the house . . . very pretty too, light and clean just like the ones they’ve chosen for the rooms.

This quilt was made by Jane, Cassandra and their mother.  Jane Austen‘s  stories capture the essence of her time.  If you’d like to go back in time, reading Jane Austen is a very easy way to do it.   In the last two centuries, her books have rarely been out of print! She died very young, at age 41, in her beloved sister Cassandra’s arms.

The house has lots of homemade touches such as these embroideries…

In every case, Jane said it like she saw it.  This was on the dining table.

Here’s the bakehouse … and next to it is their little donkey carriage . . . imagine the smell of a crusty loaf of fresh bread coming from that oven all steamy hot.  Please pass the freshly churned butter.  Jam?  Oh yes, thank you, I would love some. Let’s take it to the garden.

The kitchen!  I could feel very at home in here!  If someone would teach me how to work that stove, it would be Hot Milk Cake for everyone!

Little details like this jar of cut herbs from the garden make it feel homey, like you could move right in!

And the garden!  With benches and lawns to sit and stay in, bees buzzing, butterflies floating by, birds singing.  Jane and her family grew everything they needed in their cottage garden, vegetables, herbs, and flowers; Cassandra kept bees so they made their own honey.  I would really love to taste that honey.

Their favorite flowers were “sweet williams, columbines, peonies, pinks and laburnums” … they also grew “gooseberries, raspberries and currants” … they made their own jams and jellies and summer wines, kept a pig and chickens and had two donkeys to pull them in their carriage.  A fresh breeze blew through these flowers as we sat on a bench for a few quiet moments.

The garden smelled like summer and sounded wonderful too; see the blackbird on the garden wall?  He was singing his heart out . . . we took the equivalent of a whole “roll of film” just on him!

 He was a little beauty.  What a perfect last day it was . . .

 Then it was back to the gift shop again, of course . . . I had to buy my quill pen and ink.  And some postcards and some books . . . and this . . .

. . . my irresistible Jane Austen dishtowel, which is now hanging on my stove.  (BTW, a few days ago I received a phone call from Ann at the Jane Austen Gift Shop.  I was thrilled to learn that she wants to carry my new book, A FINE ROMANCE, Falling in Love with the English Countryside in their shop!  In Chawton, England!  I can’t even tell you how much that makes my day!)

So much of Jane’s true life is obscured by the fact that her letters were destroyed by her family.  Some say they didn’t want the world to know the “real” Jane and “protected” her so that the everyone would think she was a retiring spinster, which is hard to imagine when you read her books, but apparently much preferable in those days when women weren’t supposed to be anything at all.  This has led to much conjecture as to what her life was really like, spawning an empire of imagination,  based on her books more than anything, on bits of truth and lots of hope and romantic thinking.  And the glorious idea of “Why not, it could be!”

One of my favorites of these is the movie Becoming Jane.  And I loved this BBC production, The Real Jane Austen.   There are so many wonderful movies based on her books, one of my favorites is EMMA with Gwyneth Paltrow.  Also funny, cute, and much more modern, CLUELESS, which is also based on the book Emma.   And this old production of Pride and Prejudice with Greer Garson, where the dresses are beyond romantic.  Here’s a list of movies based on her books, in case you haven’t seen them all, perfect for any rainy day.

There are lots of websites about Jane Austen, like this one for example.  If you’re interested, just Google her name and the list is unending.  You can even take summer courses at Oxford to study Jane Austen.  She’s recently been put on a stamp, and now the £10 note will carry her likeness.  So much to know and learn. 

OK, Girlfriends,  I think I should close now, before I hear those immortal words:

41 Responses to Jane Austen

  1. Thanks so much for the YouTube documentary. I really enjoyed reading your post about your visit to Chawton again and looking at the lovely photos.

  2. Nellie says:

    What an amazing place to visit, Susan! I think Cassandra would be a lovely name for a lamb.:-) It is a shame some of the papers from Jane Austen’s past history are missing.

    • sbranch says:

      I know … a hundred or so letters from the 3,000 she is said to have written in her life. A treasure trove up in smoke!

  3. Joan Lesmeister says:

    Love it that you could “feel her presence” in the stairway! I think that’s a camellia sitting there, lucky plant! Beautiful home & treasures, thank you for taking us there, now I’m off to Cassandra’s! Wonderful blog! xoxo

  4. Nellie says:

    Darling little lamb bookmark, by the way! Oh, a wonderful shipment came on Monday! My FOUR copies of “A Fine Romance!” Part of my Christmas shopping done already.:-)

  5. Bethany says:

    I think I just learned more from your post than I ever did from my literature classes in college! Her home was so pretty. Thank you for the tour!

  6. CarolK (The Garden State) says:

    Just finished watching the 8-part series The Real Jane Austin. Thanks to your links above to youtube. She had an amazing but short life. It’s a shame she died so young. Just think of all the other novels she could have written for us if only she had more time…….

    • sbranch says:

      I know — I’m sixty-six and I think of what I did between 41 and now — almost everything. I only met Joe at 39. It wouldn’t have been as much of a life for me! We can only imagine what we missed from Jane Austen, but she sure did have a light. She came, did her angel job, and left.

  7. there is a movie coming out soon that a friend told me about called Austenland have you heard of it? I had not but after watching the trailer I’m looking forward to seeing it. As far as i can tell, it is a romantic comedy about a british resort ala’ ‘club med’ but for austen-anglophiles in an english manor house… sonyclassics.com/austenland/

  8. Donna Crouch says:

    I just finished reading ‘A Fine Romance…..’. My eyes are crossed, I couldn’t put it down. You have given me so much enjoyment. I LOVE all things Jane Austen and loved this tour of her home and your personal insight as you visited. Have you read modern day novels such as Jane Austen Ruined My Life, The Dashwood Sisters Tell All and Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart? Beth Pattillo is the author. Cute stories. Thank you for this wonderful book of memories of your visit to the English countryside. It would be a dream come true to follow in your footsteps.

  9. april says:

    What a grand tour! Two of my girls are standing over my shoulders and “ooh, aaah-ing.” We have been all about everything JA for the better part of two years now and simply cannot get enough. THANK YOU for sharing your fun with us!
    ~april

  10. Sandra Fredericks says:

    A year ago this month my husband & I and friends traveled to visit and tour Jane Austen’s cottage it was lovely and our the weather was perfect as well. :)

  11. I love all her books. I have most of her movies on dvd already.

  12. I love England. I went in 1974 during my last year at university. I would love to go back. I didn’t get to see everything.

  13. Paula says:

    Hi Susan!

    Its just amazing to read your notes about your visit to Jane Austen’s house. I was really young when I read “Pride and Prejudice” for the first time and I became a huge fan of Jane Austen´s books. Both, the book and the BBC production of “Pride and Prejudice” with Colin Firth are my mates in rainy days and inspire me!
    Some years later, a friend in the United States sent me a book of “Days” and I became in love with it, but I wasn’t able to find more of your books because they don’t sell it here in Portugal.
    Then I found your site but you didn’t ship to Portugal…finally I found e-bay and I already have: Days, Girlfriends Forever, Sweets to the Sweet, Vineyard Seasons, Christmas from the heart of the home and I’ve been buying your calendars since 2010! I just love your books!!! Sometimes I get in trouble trying to find the right ingredients four your recepies, because we don’t have some of them in Portugal!
    I just want to say that both you and Jane Austen are my inspirations, so it was so nice to read what you wrote about her!
    I wish you all the luck in the world and maybe one day you’ll visit Portugal (the island of São Jorge in the Azores) and we will meet!!!!

    PS – Sorry if you don´t understand some parts but it`s not that easy for me to write in English. :)

    • sbranch says:

      I would LOVE to come to Portugal someday Paula! Thank you for your lovely beautifully-written letter! Wouldn’t Jane Austen be surprised to see how far her words have traveled and how people are still talking about her, even between us in two different parts of the world! She would love it too!

      • Paula says:

        Thank you, Susan, you´re so sweet!
        I’ll be waiting for you to come to Portugal. I know you will love our country as well as our cuisine! Maybe one day you’ll right a book with portuguese recepies… :)

  14. Jodie H. says:

    Hi Susan,
    I just love your blog and wish that I had life just like yours! I’m sure that you will understand (being a Jane Austen fanatic)
    that the name of one of her books, is actually Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey, which was published after her death. I know that Jane would have been so flattered by your admiration for her. I can’t wait to see what other lovely things you will show us from New England.
    Jodie

  15. Lisa Andrade says:

    I get butterflies just looking at these pictures. Reading the book, I was nearly in tears. I have to say, I am not sure how you and I did not spring from the same womb, Susan. All the things you saw and wrote about on your journey to the happiest place on earth (England, not Disneyland!) are things that I love and have seen on prior trips, or are on my to-do list for future trips, or things that I didn’t know about but would LOVE to see anyway). Having been an anglophile since my age consisted of single digits, I’m now 40 with a greater love of England than ever – and nearing the top of my list of loves are Tea and Jane Austen! I have a small table next to my bedside which looks nearly identical to the one she composed her letters and novels at – but I didn’t even know this until I saw the picture in your book. Imagine my giddiness!
    Thanks so much for taking me on the (vicarious) ride of my life! What a pleasure!

  16. Coraleen says:

    I can not believe that we haven’t met before (smiles and giggles), you and I have so many interest in common. Jane Austen, Beatrix Potter, England, Downton Abbey, tea parties the list goes on and on…. It is such a pleasure reading your blog and most of all reading my first adventure with Susan Branch “A Fine Romance”. I absolutely love this book between the writing and the watercolors I don’t know which brings me more joy. I can’t wait to read your blog entries, its the same feeling I use to get when I would receive my Victoria Magazine (the first go round). I am buying three more copies of “A Fine Romance” so that others may appreciate your talents. It is a blessing to be able to take a break from everyday trials and tribulations and relax and emerge yourself in such beauty. Thank you, now off for tea and watching for the 6th time the movie “Ms. Potter”. Oh, Fred Astaire movies are the best, I have been in love with these movies since I was 9 years old (and that was a long time ago in a land far away)

  17. Alison Wood says:

    I have just found your website today and I love it, I think that might be most of the weekend gone as I read through all your articles.

    I was drawn to this post on Chawton as I have visited it many times, I live in Berkshire the next county over, so I am not very far away. You have really brought it to life in your detailed description. It is a wonderful place to visit, as is Chawton House Library, just up the road, which now houses a collection of early women’s writing.

    For a really good biography of Jane Austen I would highly recommend ‘Jane Austen: A Life’ by Claire Tomalin.

    Thank you for your lovely site, I am off to read some more posts now :-)

  18. Renee says:

    My husband and I spent 3 heavenly weeks driving through England and Wales in May and June of last year. This was one of my favorite places. I had taken just about the exact same photos you’ve posted here. How fun. Love your book “A Fine Romance” which is such a wonderful reminder of our own trip. Thank-you for posting this and sharing your trip.

  19. Brenda Gail Bissette says:

    It is a snowy weekend in Seattle and I stumbled onto your blog while searching web for info on Mason’s china “Laura asley” pattern. Now, I have spent hours on your blog. One of the best days ever!!
    I am an avid fan of Jane Austin, as well as my four daughters (who are all married with children) but are still romantics like their mom. I was fortunate to visit England in 2007 with my friend at work, Gillian, who was born there and came to live in USA a few years ago. We stayed in her daughters home with her family in Darby. What a special treat view England first hand.
    Sorry, I did not get to see Jane Austin’s house, because the weather was so snowy in March.. I did get to visit Chatsworth (Mr Darcy’s Pemberly), but had to walk up from the main road, again because of snow. Hope to visit again in spring/summer.
    I’m excited to buy your book “a fine romance”. Can you tell me when you be signing your book in Seattle? Or in Nashville? We also own a home there. Your blog and inspiration has made my day! Also can’t wait to go treasure hunting for more “Laura Ashley” stuff! I’m sure you will hear from me again.
    Love, Brenda Gail B

    • sbranch says:

      Hi Brenda Gail, nice to meet you! I’m so happy you’ve been enjoying the blog ~ you can probably tell, I love doing it. We aren’t planning any far-away signings just now because I really want to stay home and write something new. Maybe when that is done, we’ll get to go out and do some book signings like we did with A FINE ROMANCE. If you want a signed copy, we have them in my studio (see shopping at the top of page), otherwise, you should be able to get it (or order it) at your local bookstore. Have a wonderful day!

  20. Brenda Gail Bissette says:

    Please email me if I should enter additional info

  21. Kathleen Marie Rands says:

    Oh Susan! A friend of mine sent me the link to your site saying, “This reminds me of you.” Of course, I already knew your art work well enough and have had books and stickers of yours over the years, by the dozens. But then I noticed this page about your love of England. It was SUCH a pleasure to know that you too love England as much as I do. I also visited Jane’s house in Chawton some years back and was SO pleased to see it again, as the memory grows dusty. I always knew it, but now it is confirmed that we are kindred spirits…. I look forward to meeting you in another time. Thank you for sharing your wonderful talent. Kathy

  22. melanie says:

    regretfully I did not make to Chawton when I was in the UK but loved your tour and made me long for a trip back. thanks so much for sharing

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