Jane Austen completes 200 years this year. So what better time could there be to visit Jane Austen’s house in Chawton. Its a village in the Hampshire district near the A33 to Southampton which isn’t very far from where I live, and because it was a working day we left late and arrived just after dusk. The sky still had very few remnants of the sunset just as bright as any glow in the dark toy could have made in the sky. But what I loved most is, at this time, the house would be free of tourists. Which was almost like a dream come true. I had the view of the house all to myself.
It was 10pm by the time we got there and hardly any natural light left, but luckily for us, the house was covered in the warm glow from the pub opposite. The silence was eerie. It was quiet enough that I could almost hear the ruffle of silks from ballgowns and the trample of hooves from carriages across the street entirely from my own imaginings. It was like going back in time.
The house was quiet. Just like any house whose owner wouldn’t be back anytime soon. The curtains were drawn and there were no lights in the windows. But somewhere behind one of them I could picture Austen huddled behind a small wooden desk under the glow of an oil lamp, writing page after page of a love story, smiling shyly at each romantic phrase. I could hear the nib scratching away on thick cream coloured parchment. I could picture her lifting the curtains and hearing the crickets who might have sang under the same full moon I saw last night.
There was no traffic in the street, none at all, except for a Mini parked opposite. From the pub, you could hear the soft clink of glass and the warm laughter from the residents passing the rest of their Monday away. The pub is called The Greyfriar. A perfect name for a perfect setting.
We walked over to the tavern and sat down with a big glass of chilled cider while I watched her house. Any moment now I was expecting her spirit wondering in the garden looking for the perfect quote that would one day be the favourite of many:
“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us”
I could picture her smiling at the words she would write for Darcy as she walked in her back garden. In winters, she would be drape herself in a scratchy shawl wondering how to make Elizabeth and Darcy meet again.
“We are all fools in love” is that something she might have heard her mother say when Jane would read part of the story to her? And when she posted her book in the post box near by she might have held herself tight and looked up at the sheet of stars above, wondering if her book would still be remembered 200 years later. And guess what? It still is.🙂