Jane Austen, and me

On Saturday I went to Jane Austen’s house in Chawton, Hampshire. It’s where she spent her last eight years, was reportedly at her happiest, and wrote her novels Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion.  I found it a wonderful experience going to ‘her’ house, and far, far superior to my rather disappointing trip to the Jane Austen Society’s house in Bath, which I visited last summer. The Austens’ house, sitting at the junction of the two roads going through the village, is perfectly situated for a woman interested in observing others. Anyone going in and out of the village would have passed by Jane’s parlour window, where she would sit writing at her tiny (it really is tiny!) writing table. The Austens lived at the heart of this small, rural community, and this settled, comfortable, peaceful existence near friends and family and not far from where Jane grew up, would provide the perfect atmosphere for Jane to write her final three novels.

Chawton is a beautiful, quintessentially English village. There are rows of teeny tiny cottages with thatched rooves and little wooden dormer windows; ivy covered, grander brick houses, standing in their own  grounds; a village hall; paddocks for horses; a large church with moss covered, centuries old gravestones, and finally, the grand Chawton House, Jane’s brother’s home, a magnificent, pretty flint mansion that sits apart from the rest of the village, gazing benevolently over the land it once used to own. I could easily see, despite the swarms of tourists that now fill the street, taking photos and talking excitedly, how happy Jane must have been here. I could also appreciate what inspiration she must have found, especially in the writing of Emma, from the motley crew of villagers, a mix of poverty stricken cottagers and more well to do gentry, living side by side in this delightful slice of the English countryside.

I loved walking around the beautiful gardens, planted with a variety of fragrant and colourful flowers, that surround the Austen’s house. Inside, the cool, light filled rooms filled me with joy, as I pondered how pleasant, how comfortable, how lovely, life must have been here. However, what impacted me the most was the sheer number of people who had descended on the village on a sunny day in July, anxious to see where their favourite novels had been written, to touch the walls their heroine had touched, to walk the paths she would have trod as she moved from room to room within her house. There was a conference on, at Chawton House, and almost one hundred enthusiastic American visitors had come especially, sporting their name badges and talking with such enthusiasm about the novelist who meant so much to them that they had come all the way across the Atlantic just to set eyes on where she had once lived. It made me stop, and think about what it is that inspires such devotion, such interest, such affection, when it comes to Jane Austen? Why is she so enduringly popular, so mythologised, so sanctified, almost? I don’t know about everyone else, but it made me think about why I feel the way I do about Jane Austen, and why it meant so much to me to see her home and her surroundings. So here it is, the story of Jane Austen, and me.

It wasn’t love at first sight, I can’t claim that. I was a precocious child, and read constantly from the age of 3, but my tastes were not exactly literary. At 11, tired of me reading nothing but Babysitter’s Club books, my mum bought me a copy of Emma and told me to read it. I had heard of Jane Austen, of course, and anxious to be ‘well read’, and impress my English teacher, I eagerly began reading. I barely managed to make it half way. Everyone spoke in ridiculous, long winded, non sensical sentences, nothing exciting happened, and I couldn’t make head nor tail of what was going on. Poor Emma got shoved on a shelf, I reached for the latest Babysitter’s Club instalment, and Jane got ne’er a backwards glance. Fast forward three years or so and I was on holiday in a rainy Ireland with my mother and her best friend, insufferably bored, as only teenagers can be, with no TV and nothing to do. The only book in the house was, as luck would have it, Emma. I languidly opened the pages, and to my surprise, a world of colour, of hilarity, of nuances and sideward glances, of love, and laughter, and wonderful, witty prose, sprang up before me.

How could I not have seen this before?! I wondered, as I devoured the pages. I laughed out loud, I gasped in shock, I wept tears of joy. Jane Austen knew, she understood, the vagaries of the human soul. She had a gift for the absurd, a perfect eye for character, and a deliciously acidic pen. With an arched eyebrow and a sardonic smile, she brought to life people who were real; recognisable, three dimensional, flawed yet loveable characters, who were fresh and modern and alive, who felt deeply, who loved and yearned and suffered, who laughed and wept and lived lives that were not so very different from my own. Her world was not something that was archaic, irrelevant, or boring, as I had once thought, and I knew that I would never be able to get enough of it. As soon as Emma‘s pages were closed, I sought out more; Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, Mansfield Park…all exquisite, in their own ways, and all filled with the same magical qualities; the same lively, critical, yet kindly, pen.

Now, at the age of 24, my copies of Jane Austen’s novels are tatty, well thumbed, adored belongings that I will never part with. Each has been read several times, and there is no balm greater for when my soul is troubled than one of these precious volumes. I think this is why I love Jane so; whenever my life has spun out of my control, whenever my heart has been broken, my hopes dashed, my disappointments greater than my joys, she has been there, and what’s more, she knows how I feel. How can any woman who has ever loved and lost read of Anne Elliott in Persuasion without a pang, without tears of recognition, and without whoops of joy, her own heart renewed with hope, when at last, Anne gets her greatest wish? Who can fail to understand Marianne’s devastation at Captain Willoughby’s heartless treatment, and who can’t share Elinor’s tears as she fears her life has crumbled underneath her? Who hasn’t felt Emma’s shame as Mr Knightley, her greatest friend, reproaches her for her thoughtless behaviour? And who hasn’t been a Miss Bates, or a Harriet, feeling small and insignificant, desperate for a word of kindness, a saviour?

The whole of life is within these six novels; the hopes, the fears, the joys, the disappointments, the loves, the losses, the friendships, and the laughter that mark all of our lives in some form or another. Her words encourage, inspire, motivate, soothe, comfort, and heal. Many a time I have opened my favourite Jane Austen, Persuasion, with a heavy heart, and by the end, I am soaring on the wings of possibility again, and rejoicing in the beauty of life. No, my life might not turn out perfectly, and I may not get the happy ever after I desire, but Jane Austen helps me to believe that it could, and she also reminds me, through her own life, and those of her characters, that it doesn’t matter if I don’t, because life is not just about a wedding day, but about taking chances, about loving everyone with all your heart, about friendship, about passion, about kindness, and about personal growth and redemption. Romance does not just exist between lovers, it exists everywhere around us. Romance is in the beauty of a dew drenched lawn; a quiet moment spent sitting with a cup of tea in the early morning, when the world is at peace; a brisk walk through country lanes; a pleasant family meal, sharing food and laughter; and the intimate, understanding conversations held between close friends. Life is a constant romance between the soul and the world it exists within, and it is this everyday romance, this quiet beauty we can find in the ups and downs of ordinary life, that Jane Austen brings to life effortlessly on her pages. I wouldn’t be without her books for the world; they have contributed to who I am. That is why I love Jane Austen, and why I felt so happy as I toured the beautiful house she lived in. She must have found peace there;  joy, and contentment. I am glad, because that is what she has brought to me, and I want her to have felt the same, to have been happy, to have enjoyed her life, as she has encouraged me to enjoy mine.

If you’ve never read Jane Austen, or have read her once, and been underwhelmed, I want to encourage you to give her a try, or another one, if necessary. On each re-read, the experience gets richer. Characters become dearer, witticisms become funnier, nuances previously missed jump out afresh. Look beyond the antiquated language and the uneventful plots compared to today’s page turners and you will find absolute brilliance, and words that will become treasured companions as you journey along the road of life.

73 comments

  1. I was fortunate to have a travel buddy with me when I backpacked across parts of Europe and the UK who indulged my bookish Jane Austen whims. As a result, we made our way to Chawton Cottage, which really is a wonderful restorative for any Jane fan’s soul. I’m so glad to read that you enjoyed yourself, and while I don’t recall being overly disappointed with the Jane Austen Society in Bath, this definitely has a different appeal to it.
    Also, it’s interesting to think Jane was at her happiest here when two of her darkest books, Mansfield Park and Persuasion, were written during that time!

    1. How fun that you backpacked across Europe and the UK! I want to backpack across America one day!
      This has a much different appeal than the one in Bath, you’re exactly right. I was disappointed because there was nothing actually of Jane Austen’s there and the information they gave was stuff I knew already. Being at Chawton was a totally different experience and one I absolutely loved.

      Yes, isn’t it? Maybe she felt able to tackle more depressing themes while her own life was so happy?

  2. I have been rereading Pride and Prejudice this week and marvelling at how wonderful it is. It has never been my favourite (that honour goes to Emma, which, like you, I first picked up at the age of eleven but didn’t come to finish or appreciate until a few years later) though I have read it several times, always happily, but never with quite as much pleasure as this time. It’s the briefest moments, a clever aside, a deft phrase, that make it so miraculous. Indeed, as I return to Austen’s books more and more, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to claim a favourite. How do I favour Anne over Elinor, or Emma over Elizabeth? (I’m afraid Catherine and Fanny are on their own – excellent books, but not for me quite up to the stiff competition the other four present).

    Wouldn’t the world be a wonderful place if only everyone would read Jane Austen? How could there ever be an awkward lack of conversation when one could instead be comparing acquaintances to Miss Bates or Mrs Bennet, considering whether Catherine and Mr Tilney are actually well-suited to one another, or simply considering which of Austen’s heroes is the most sympathetic?

    1. How wonderful that you are rereading Pride and Prejudice! I have read P&P and Emma many times as I had to study them for my A levels at school, and each time something new jumped out at me, sending me onto new levels of love for Jane! I totally agree – Catherine and Fanny are not in the same league as their fellow heroines. I often struggle between Emma and Anne Elliott…both beautiful, wonderful heroines, who delight me in different ways each time I read about them.

      Yes it would! I grow increasingly frustrated with people who haven’t read Austen – or worse – say ‘I haven’t read any, but I’ve seen all the TV series, so I might as well have done.’ No! No! Watching them dramatised is not the same as reading them!

  3. This post is phenomenal. I had to click through the email and comment, because I am SO grateful. I love Jane Austen personally, but it’s also the passion that you have for her that makes reading your post special. I love it when brilliant books are beloved and cherished, but also are considered an integral part of people’s lives. In my case, it’s the classic Anne of Green Gables that never fails to resonate with me, has changed my life for the better, and helped me find more ways to be happy. Passion for an author, book, or group of books like yours for Jane is always wonderful to behold.

    I was planning on reading Pride and Prejudice out loud to my cousin this summer (I haven’t read it for a few years – actually, since I first read it in 6th grade), and haven’t gotten around to it. After reading this, though, I called her and told her that we have to make it happen!

    Thanks again.

    -Madeleine

    1. Thanks Madeleine! What a lovely comment. I really appreciate that! Jane Austen is a real heroine of mine and it is my mission in life to make as many people read her as possible! I am planning on reading Anne of Green Gables this summer – I have never read it and I desperately want to! I am glad it has brought you such pleasure.

      Oh that’s wonderful! I hope you do. There is nothing more special than sharing a book with someone you love!

  4. This was a wonderful post — well-written and inspiring. And you really captured what makes Jane Austen so wonderful for so many of us. Thanks!

  5. I knew from your first sentence that I would be captivated, and a little jealous, by your post and of your adventure at Chawton House. I felt much the same way when I visited Alcott’s Orchard House and just the picture you post of the tiny writing desk by the little window to the world passing by Jane Austen on a daily basis had me quivering and wanting to reach out across the internet and touch the quill on her desk.

    Thank you, Rachel, for bringing this alive to your readers, especially this old gal from across the ocean, who loves all things Austen.

    We Americans have always loved to read Austen and she first came to me in high school and English literature class. I think our numbers have grown with some of the wonderful movies and PBS/BBC features that have brought her books to life here. The movies have brought many to her books and so then to Chawton House.

    What a wonderful was to begin what will be a long week. Thank you.

    1. Oh Penny! I wish you could have been there with me, I know you would have loved it. It’s a pleasure to share my visit with those who can’t make it themselves due to the distance.

      Isn’t it fantastic that Jane is so well known around the globe? I do think that the films and tv series have massively contributed to her popularity, though I would rather people read the books and didn’t just watch the films!

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post; thank you for another one of your lovely and encouraging comments!🙂

  6. What a lovely post. It’s so pretty around Chawton, isn’t it? Such a pity about those horrible signs announcing ‘Jane Austen country’.

    Interesting about the American tourists. Do you remember how in What Katy Did Next Katy asks to see Jane Austen’s grave? The verger tells her that only Americans bother and English people don’t seem to care!

    1. Thanks Barbara! Chawton is gorgeous, but yes, the ‘welcome to Jane Austen country’ signs on the motorway were a little cheesy!

      Goodness me, I haven’t read the Katy series in years! I’ll have to revisit that as I don’t recognise that quote at all – thank you for sharing it as I love it! Very true as well!

  7. What a lovely outing, and fabulous to read your thoughts on Jane Austen. I’ve never actually reread any Jane Austen – I plodded through them in my teens but maybe I am missing out on something by mainly remembering the stories through the various film adaptions and should return to the books.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed reading my thoughts Verity! I think you definitely are! Austen novels are not to be plodded through, but revelled in! I am sure you will love them better with an older and wiser eye – you MUST re read them!

  8. Beautifully and wonderfully written. I especially love this

    ‘life is about taking chances, about loving everyone with all your heart, about friendship, about passion, about kindness, and about personal growth and redemption. Romance does not just exist between lovers, it exists everywhere around us. Romance is in the beauty of a dew drenched lawn; a quiet moment spent sitting with a cup of tea in the early morning, when the world is at peace; sharing food and laughter; and the intimate, understanding conversations held between close friends. Life is a constant romance between the soul and the world it exists within, and it is this everyday romance, this quiet beauty we can find in the ups and downs of ordinary life, ‘
    Oh so true. Makes me want to re read Austen this summer, or even today.

  9. Wheeee! I love Jane Austen! This post made me want to dump all the textbooks I’m perusing for my exam in, oh, 3 hours…!!…. and dive head-first into the page of Persuasion. I think that Ms Austen and I will have a hot date come Wednesday.
    Isn’t the house at Chawton brilliant? I’ve not been there for years – my mum and I stopped off, I believe it was on the way back from the dentist. And Jane Austen was most definitely better for a sore mouth than icecream! I loved it all – not only the atmosphere and the history of it, imagining her there scribbling away and thinking her wonderful thoughts, but the details of it – the quilts, the furniture, the piano. I must return. Thanks for this lovely post.

    1. Hi Jane! Thanks for coming by – I love your blog! I hope your exam went well! Persuasion is a wonderful book to be able to look forward to!

      I just loved the house at Chawton – all the things inside were exquisite. I especially loved the quilt – I took lots of photos, with grand, if not slightly overambitious, plans of recreating it myself one day!

  10. What a beautifully written post.
    I think my favourite of Austen’s books will always be Pride and Prejudice but I am about to re-read Mansfield Park: I studied it for A-Level (before you were born!) and didn’t like it but Nicola from Vintage Reads reckons it will mean more to me now so I have dug out my very battered copy and will try again.

    1. Thank you Liz! It’s interesting to hear people’s favourite Austen – there is such a diversity of choices among Austen fans! Mansfield Park isn’t my favourite but I think it would benefit from a more mature reread. I have only read it once, actually, so I should take another look at some point.

  11. Alright, I’ll get Emma out of the library and will give it another go. I’m not promising anything though as you know how I feel about the nineteenth century. Gorgeous pics.

    1. You have to read it! You will be pleasantly surprised and forced to eat your words, promise.😉 Thanks – I had gorgeous surroundings to photograph! I know you’d love it!

  12. This rang a bell for me! I was also an early reader. Enid Blyton at first, then I fell in love with Sam Pig and great things followed. However, like you, I read books that were beyond my experience of life. It’s marvellous to re-read and think, “I’ve grown up! I understand.”

    I have a lovely Complete Works of Jane Austen with very fine original illustrations and tiny drawings at the head of each chapter. It’s a good thing I wasn’t given this volume when I was small – I would have been very tempted, as now, to colour them in. Exquisitely, of course!

    I do so enjoy your enthusiasm, Rachel.

    1. You are so right, Chrissy – reading books before you are old enough to understand them is a sure fire way to turn you off classics such as Austen. Coming back to them, older and wiser, so much richness and detail and emotion you never noticed or experienced the first time comes flooding in. I dread to think what would have happened if I had never tried reading Emma again!

      Your edition sounds divine – thoroughly lovely. I too am glad those illustrations haven’t been coloured in!

      Thank you Chrissy! What a lovely compliment.

  13. You have just summed up everything I feel about Jane Austen and I couldn’t have put it better. I know that nothing will ever topple her from the top of my favourite author’s list and she is the author I will re-read again and again. I know that reading one of her novels will always make me feel better when I am feeling down or ill or upset -she is my literary comfort blanket! And yet, despite my numerous re-reads, I still feel as caught up in the story – as nervous and as excited and as happy as I felt the first time I read them – and I always take something new from them. For me, the wonder of Jane Austen is that whatever my mood and as I get older I can still draw something from the novels and they are still as valid a reflection of human nature and love as they were when they were written.

    My boyfriend took my to Chawton a couple of months ago and I loved it! I loved imagining her living there and walking through the rooms – my favourite bit was actually seeing the amber necklaces her brother got for her and Cassandra. For some reason, those particular items made the fact that it was her home all the more real.

    1. Thank you Alison! It’s so wonderful to hear of so many people who feel the same way about Jane as I do. I love that too – I know the plots so well but I always sit there, my hands gripping the edge of my seat, my heart fluttering, wondering WILL they get together?!?!

      Yes those amber crosses were quite lovely. I have real difficulty in a lot of author’s houses actually understanding in my mind that they were there…looking at the quilt she made and the crosses and the manuscripts in her hand was wonderful as I felt so close to her.

  14. Oh Rachel, you have such a way with words! I love this post! I love Jane Austen, too, and (as silly as this sounds) I have never read Emma because I don’t want to ‘run out’ of her books. I know I won’t hold out much longer…

    1. Thank you JoAnn! I really appreciate that! Oh it’s not silly at all…I haven’t read Lady Susan and the Watsons for precisely the same reason…I want there to always be something new to read from my favourite author! Though I must say, you are saving almost the best til last…you’re in for such a treat!

      1. That is exactly why I’m saving The Watsons, Sanditon and Lady Susan! I’ve read the Juvenilia and her letters, so not much saved for later…

  15. What an absolutely divine post. You just summed up everything that is perfect about Jane Austen!! It has been so long since I read something by her and you just completely reignited my passion for her books. Thank you🙂 Excellent excellent post.

    1. Thank you Elise, and thank you for coming by! I’m so glad I’ve reignited your passion – it’s a pleasure! I hope this sets you off on an Austen adventure this summer!

  16. How wonderful to have visited Jane’s home, and you write about it so beautifully. When I’m trying to write something and the family isn’t leaving me in peace, I yell, ‘I’m not Jane Austen, you know!’. Amazing to think that she wrote those wonderful books sitting at that tiny table with family life going on around her.
    Thank you so much for sharing your photos. I’ve shown them to the aforementioned family. We all adore Jane!

    1. It really was such a treat Penny! Thank you for the compliment – I’m glad you and the family enjoyed the post and the photos. I know it’s not easy for everyone to get around and see such places from where they are in the world and I always really appreciate seeing places I haven’t yet made it to on other people’s blogs.

      That’s so funny! I know – and it said in the house that the door between the hall and parlour squeaked, and the Austens deliberately never got it fixed so that Jane would always hear when someone was coming and be able to cover up her writing as she hated being caught in the act!

  17. I read Pride and Prejudice at the same age as you read Emma. It was beautiful and grows more beautifully with every reread. I had the same thought as you: How can I miss such beauty? How can I even complain?

    It would have been nostalgic to be in the house where one of your favorite authors, one of the best authors recognized by almost everyone who reads, wrote her novels. Thank you for giving us the tour though.

    1. Lex, I’m delighted that you share my passion for Jane Austen. It’s good to start young, as you have a lifetime of rereading ahead of you!

      It was wonderful, I so enjoyed the experience. It’s a pleasure to share it with all of you lovely readers!

  18. I have never understood what is so good about Jane Austen, however booksnob your enthusiasm is so infectious that I’m going to give her yet another go. Maybe this time..

    1. Oh Ann, I’m glad I’m encouraged you to give her another go! She is the sort of writer that gets better on each reading. Maybe this time she’ll capture your heart!

  19. Lovely post, Rachel! And I hadn’t seen it when I blogged about JA tonight, nice coincidence.

    I went to Chawton about seven years ago, but my housemate is about to spend a month in Chawton House (!!) so will probably make a trip there next month…

    1. Thanks Simon! What a coincidence indeed! Jane is clearly in the air.

      Oh how exciting! A visiting fellowship at the library, I presume? You must go and visit – and when you do go, go to the church next to Chawton House to see the graves of Jane’s mother and sister and also to get a cup of tea and cake that are homemade and served up by volunteers from the church!

  20. What a wonderful post! It is nice to read what makes Jane Austen so inspiring to others. And I’m jealous that you got to see Chawton House. It is on my to-do list, but has yet to happen.

    1. Thanks Iris, I appreciate that! I’ve been meaning to go for years and it’s only an hour away from my house, so it’s not as if I’ve been quick off the mark…I’m sure you’ll get there eventually!

  21. Should I confess that the only Austen I haven’t been able to get on with is Persuasion? Someone told me to read it again when I’m 30, so… (or maybe I just need to have my heart broken?) My favourite is probably Sense and Sensibility, which is an unusual choice for Austenites.

    1. Oh goodness me! I think Persuasion is very much a book for those who have loved and lost, so yes, go and get your heart broken and then read it, and then you will understand.😉 But at the same time, it’s also about bad choices and regrets and I think as such it’s a book that needs a more mature mind to fully appreciate it. I know when I first read it I didn’t love it as much as Emma, but after heartbreak and general life disappointment, I came back to it, and it spoke to me in a totally different way. So don’t write it off! That is an unusual choice Simon – I find Sense and Sensibility a bit histrionic for my liking, though I do still greatly enjoy it.

  22. I really enjoyed reading your reflections on your Jane Austen experiences and passion. Like you I didn’t fall in love at first read and Austen is an author I have only truly began to love since becoming an adult and finishing my university education (now that I don’t have to “study” her writing it is all I want to do!). I hope to be able to visit Chawton one day very soon…

    1. Thank you Karen! I loved literature a whole lot more once I didn’t have to pick it apart as well…I loved doing my English degree, but it doesn’t half take the soul out of a book! I hope you manage to visit Chawton one day soon.

  23. What a superb post Rachel. I feel like a bit of a book blogging fraud as until now, though I will work on it this summer, I have never managed a full book of Austen. I know I will probably like her, though the first fifty pages of P&P royally put me off, I just don’t instantly decide to grab her and read her which is really a rather poor show! I shall pop one of her books higher up the TBR pronto.

    So glad you loved Chawton, I was there with Polly of Novel Insights and our friend Michelle not too long ago and found it a wonderful place and gave me the urge to read Austen but I havent managed as yet… I must though. I must, must, must.

    1. Thanks Simon – it was your lovely post about Chawton that gave me the push to go actually, so I have you to thank!

      Oh dear…oh dear indeed. I think your sense of humour will probably make you more of an Emma man. Why don’t you give that a go? I think she is a bit hard to get ‘into’ but once you’re in, you’ll never go back!

  24. I have to admit I was a little underwhelmed when I read P&P after watching all the adaptations (which I loved) but am determined to give it another go. Actually I think I first read it at school and rather liked it, but I can’t remember much of it as it was so long ago. Which other Austen novel would you recommend after P&P?

    I’ve been to visit Haworth (which was lovely) but didn’t realise Chawton existed until I read about Simon and Polly’s visit there. Sounds like you had an amazing time there. I am definitely going to visit someday!

    1. Well P&P is lovely, but I think if you come to it after watching a TV adaptation, you’re bound to find it a bit lacking in all the excitement and extra padding they put into these things!

      My personal favourite Austen is Persuasion, which is so beautiful, and that is closely followed by Emma, which is so funny, and highly recommended. Give either one of these a go and I promise you won’t be disappointed!

      I’ve been to Haworth too – isn’t it gorgeous? I LOVED it. Chawton isn’t quite as atmospheric as that moorland scenery but it’s still divine and well worth a visit.

  25. I was so happy to have found this post!! I am an ardent admirer of Jane Austen — I can understand how you felt while going through her place.

  26. Oh I love you – “Jane Austen knew, she understood, the vagaries of the human soul. She had a gift for the absurd, a perfect eye for character, and a deliciously acidic pen. With an arched eyebrow and a sardonic smile, she brought to life people who were real; recognisable, three dimensional, flawed yet loveable characters, who were fresh and modern and alive, who felt deeply, who loved and yearned and suffered, who laughed and wept and lived lives that were not so very different from my own.” …. just what I have always felt about this great authoress..

    paalok from Bookworms (http://ourbookshelf-bookworms.blogspot.com/)

  27. The first Jane Austen book I read was Emma, I didn’t like it at all, probably because it was a set text. Years later I read Persuasion and that was a revelation -what a wonderful, witty writer- I subsequently read her other books and now one of my greatest pleasures is to re read the books. As you say, they are balm for the soul.

    It was lovely to see pictures of her house and the little table. Terrific post, thank you.

    1. Thank you, Sue! What a lovely comment. I’m glad you enjoyed seeing the pictures, and that you too are a lover of Austen. Isn’t it wonderful having her books on the shelves, knowing that they are always available to soothe and delight in at any given time? Familiar pleasures are always the most worthy of treasuring, I find.

  28. I loved looking at your pictures and reading your thoughts on why Austen means so much to you. For some reason I’ve only ever read Mansfield Park (at school) and seen films / TV versions (I’m not very good at reading books after I’ve seen them adapted), but your eloquent post has made me want to pick up an Austen sooner rather than later.

    When you saw the little writing desk did you too sort-of envision yourself sitting at it penning wonderful stories? Maybe that was just me….

    1. Thanks Polly! Mansfield Park isn’t my favourite and if I had only read that I don’t think I’d be overly keen to read more Austen. Saying that I think I’ve only read MP once (or is it twice?) so I haven’t given it the same opportunity to seep into me the way I have her others. You must try Emma and Persuasion at least – reading them will be so worth it, I promise, and far better than anything on TV!

      Yes! I did! I wanted to leap over the little barrier and sit there myself!

  29. Hi Rachel,
    Reappearing again after a long vanishing! (Mid-winter here, childhood illnesses, first day of school and suchlike happening.) When you get a chance Claire Harman’s book Jane’s Fame mines the same question you posed about what it is that inspires such fervent devotion for Jane Austen.

    I recommend going into JA’s brother’s house for a visit one day and visiting the amazing early women’s writing library – even though you’re not a huge 18thC fan it’s quite a spin out to see such old original texts.

    Also the London Branch of the JA Soc, has amazing monthly meetings where they invite the great and the good to give superb lectures on a Saturday afternoon. (Just don’t ask for a cup of COFFEE at their afternoon teas.)
    The membership tend to be of mature years, but this did not bother me a jot, I just loved their passion and phenomenal knowledge, and even went on one of their yearly bus outings through significant sites in Hampshire.
    A little trainspotting and embarassing to admit…

    I might just be a little bit annoying now and add a hugely belated comment or two to your last dozen posts! Thanks as always for brilliant and thoughtful reviews.

    1. Hi Merenia! It’s always wonderful to hear from you! Life gets busy doesn’t it?!

      I so want to read Jane’s Fame…I must see if the library has it actually.

      I would really like to go to Chawton House – no 18thc doesn’t hold much fascination for me but libraries and old houses certainly do so I would welcome the chance to explore inside such a beautiful building!

      The society in London sounds spectacular – I never knew it existed! I must look them up. Hanging out with old ladies and drinking tea is one of my favourite things to do – and don’t worry – I don’t like coffee!

      Be my guest Merenia – a comment from you is always very appreciated!

  30. Lovely post, Rachel. I love Jane & she never disappoints me. I’ve reread Persuasion many times & it always leaves me feeling hopeful, as you say. I haven’t visited Chawton but did visit Bath on my only trip to the UK 10 years ago. I find it disconcerting that Bath make such a big deal of the Jane connection when she hated the place & the Bath scenes in her books reflect that. Still, it’s a beautiful Georgian city. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the divine Jane.

    1. Hi Lyn – thank you! I’m so pleased you love Persuasion too – I think there is a certain affinity between Persuasion fans.🙂

      I quite agree – I found all the fuss about Jane Austen and Bath really quite inappropriate as the time she spent there was so unhappy. Every description of Bath in her novels is highly negative, after all! I liked Bath enormously, but the Jane Austen industry not so much.

      You are so welcome – thank you for reading them!🙂

  31. I’m printing your wonderful post for posterity. I loved what you said about anyone who has loved and lost can’t fail to empathise with Anne and Marianne. I agree with you about Chawton. You get a sense that Austen was happy there. In fact, she wasn’t keen on Bath at all.

    1. Oh goodness, what a compliment! Thank you Nicola! I’m glad you got the same feeling. No, she hated Bath, and I was really disappointed about the twee Jane Austen industry they had going on there. The soul of Jane had been lost among it, I felt.

  32. I realize I’m late in replying, and so I’m leaving a trail of comments on really old posts, but I couldn’t read this and pass by without saying what a beautiful tribute it is to the wonderful works of Jane Austen. Thank you for sharing the photos – I’m really hoping I can get to Chawton on my next visit to the UK.

    And thank you for this: “almost one hundred enthusiastic American visitors had come especially, sporting their name badges and talking with such enthusiasm about the novelist who meant so much to them that they had come all the way across the Atlantic just to set eyes on where she had once lived.” So many people would just see a mass of tourists slowing things down – you saw fellow Austenites on a pilgrimage.

  33. Dear Book Snob,

    First kudos for writing such a lovely and insightful tribute to Jane Austen–I hope that some of those reading along here will take you up and give Jane Austen’s novels another chance.

    I too have made my pilgrimages in England to the various holy Austen sites, including standing in a particular spot in WESTminster Abbey which I believe she had in mind when she referred to the “awful memorial” that Catherine Morland imagines while at NORTHanger Abbey! 😉

    There is so much more than meets the eye in Austen’s writings, and if you want to get a taste of that, check out my blog (see the link below).
    Cheers,
    Arnie Perlstein
    sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com

    P.S.: I have a particular fondness for your nom de plume, because in the late Eighties I started, and then ran for 5 years, a club in South Florida that I named “the Intellectual Snobs”, because I was looking for smart people with a sense of humor, who could laugh at the name that is often used as an epithet against people who like to be intellectual. It appears you aspire to create the same sort of atmosphere here, good on you!

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