A week or so ago, I visited Jane Austen’s house – in Chawton, Hampshire. Like most avid readers, I have read all of her books and admire her insights into society of the early 19thCentury. She may have had a short life but there can be do doubt that her impact on English Literature was immeasurable.
The house is also home to the Jane Austen museum and it was fascinating to hear about her sea-faring brothers, Francis and Charles who both had distinguished naval careers.
Jane’s older brother Edward Austen Knight had been fortunate enough to be adopted by a wealthy family. When he inherited the estate he allowed Jane, her widowed mother, her sister Cassandra and their close family friend Martha Lloyd to live in the house rent free.
End of a peripatetic lifestyle
It must have been a welcome relief to her after a somewhat peripatetic lifestyle between 1801 and 1809.
Jane’s clergyman father had retired to Bath when he was 70 and died four years later.
From then on, the Austen women lived a type of genteel poverty. They stayed with family and friends or stayed in a variety of lodgings in Bath, Clifton, Warwickshire and Southampton. This was the period when Jane hardly did any writing. I think it likely she had so many other day-to-day tasks that she regarded her writing as an unimportant diversion. Many writers will identify with that attitude of mind.
Once they were settled in Chawton, there was no doubt the family were free of some of the financial constraints. It was then Jane’s inspiration returned. Observing the idyllic surroundings of this very English village, it’s not hard to see why this last home was where Jane was most prolific and most successful in her writing.
She must have also found a great deal of her material in the local residents and the occasional social event at the “Great House” (as Jane called the Chawton House home of Edward Austen Knight).
But poverty can drive inspiration
Not all writers need to feel secure and happy in order to be inspired. Charles Dickens and George Orwell all struggled in their early writing careers but ploughed on. J K Rowling was an unemployed single mum when she penned the early Harry Potter series of novels.
But Jane was obviously settled at Chawton and English Literature is the richer because of that. I would highly recommend a visit to Jane Austen House House Museum to any fan of literature. I plan to go back as the ticket price entitles you to another free visit within a year.