Visits to English Writers’ Homes: Jane Austen’s House Museum
Our last visit to a writer’s home in England was a delightful end to brilliant series of visits. What could be better than an afternoon visit to Jane Austen’s house?
It turns out, Jane Austen’s House Museum is an easy day trip from London, where we were staying for the second half of our vacation (thanks to my friend Anne Moore for the tip!). We took a train to Alton station, then a short bus ride and walk to the center of Chawton village took us to Jane’s house.
(Side note: Alton also has a steam train! But we didn’t know until we were already there, and it was too late to do both the house tour and the train ride without getting stranded. Foiled again in my steam train ride attempts!)
By the time we arrived, it was about lunchtime, and we were peckish. Luckily, although the village is extremely tiny, the aptly-named Cassandra’s Cup cafe (named after Jane’s beloved sister, for anyone who doesn’t know) was ready for us with a surprisingly tasty meal.
Jane’s house is much like what I would have expected. It’s situated in a tiny village surrounded by charming natural scenery. Even today, the area is not heavily populated, the streets are narrow, and most of the square, sturdy brick homes–some with thatched roofs–look to date from the seventeenth century. It’s easy to imagine women in long dresses walking down the street to post a letter or visit a neighbor.
We spent some time in the very pretty garden, which was planted to approximate what would have been popular at the time (although I think the Austens’ gardens would have been more useful than ornamental):
Jane Austen moved into her Chawton home with her mother and sisters in 1809. Her brother owned the house as part of his much larger estate (Chawton House, which is now the home of an archive of early women’s writing in English). Although people usually associate Austen with Bath, where she began writing and drafted early versions of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, Chawton was just as important (if more so), because she wrote and published her three last novels there (Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion) and extensively revised the other three before publishing them. Therefore, this is where she really came into her own as an author.
The two-story house was comfortable and pretty inside. As with all the house museums we visited in England, we were not allowed to take pictures. However, I couldn’t resist taking a quick picture of Austen’s writing desk:
If you’re ever in London and have time for a day trip, I definitely recommend visiting Jane Austen’s home in Chawton. Perhaps you can even find time to ride the steam train!