This post was written my dear friend Alfred Kaal from Netherlands
(we did a Jane Austen Course at Oxford last january). Thanks a lot Alfred! Tomorrow I will translate it and publish the news pictures he sent me.
Last year I went to Bath, and visited the Jane Austen Centre, saw the house where she lived, and walked past the famous sites she must have seen too. After taking the Oxford University course on Jane Austen, and rereading her books and moreover, learning about her writing style, and taking in lots of background information, what must one do when returning to England? Right, visit other places where Jane Austen has been. During my first week in England I stayed in Oxford, and from there it is easy to drive to Chawton and Winchester. At Chawton she wrote Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion. And in Winchester, she died at the age of 41.
Chawton is a small village near Alton, in Hampshire. It is close to a highway, but after parking the car, I noticed how calm and peaceful the place was. A couple of houses, a restaurant on the opposite side of the street. And then the cottage of Jane Austen. It is a museum nowadays, but it looks like a house where one could live in comfortably. On the inside, it looks both like a house and a museum. In some rooms, you could (almost) imagine Jane Austen walking in, and doing the things she is used to do. In other rooms, it feels more like a museum. When you observe the behaviour of the people working and visiting there, they behave like it’s a house. It’s treated with respect. Everything looks neat and cared after. The staff seems very devoted in keeping the memory of Jane Austen alive. And that’s why I liked it there. It’s not like Stonehenge with busloads of visitors, Buckingham Palace or Windsor. It’s a house where a very good writer lived. The guestbook says it all: people from all over the world come to Chawton. They are not ordinary visitors. They are people who enjoy the books of Jane Austen, the movies, the dancing and perhaps might want to live in her era. And some go as far as taking a course on Jane Austen at Oxford University 😉
Next stop was Winchester. A lively town, packed with shops. And a cathedral. Because Jane Austen died in Winchester, she was to be buried there. Not because she was famous, most people didn’t know she wrote a couple of well-known books. Just because she died in Winchester, her grave is now in the cathedral. The text on the grave stone memorises her not as the writer she was. That was later corrected in a brass plague on the wall close to her grave. An exhibition on Jane Austen was on display. Most of it was familiar, but it was interesting to see the book where her death was noted, albeit the wrong date was written down: July 16 instead of 18! One can only wonder how that mistake could be made. It wasn’t certainly a mistake to visit the cathedral, and I’m glad I was there.