A Journey into Jane Austen’s World

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The beautiful Chawton countryside, and St. Nicholas Church (where Jane Austen’s mother and sister are buried).

On an overcast Friday morning in the middle of April, I found myself wandering down the main street in an English village named Chawton.  There were no sidewalks, so I walked along the side of the narrow road, constantly checking over my shoulder to ensure I didn’t get clipped by a passing car.  My anxiety was short-lived; I was only accompanied by the occasional car, driven by residents who all smiled and waved. 

Chawton Cottage

A quaint cottage in Chawton.

Continuing on my stroll, I passed by pastures filled with grazing sheep and newborn lambs. Thatched-roof cottages adorned with striking amethyst and yellow flowers, and endearing names like “Joy Cottage,” lined the street. I felt as if I had been transported back in time; back to a period when I would have been concerned about getting sideswiped by a horse-drawn carriage rather than an automobile, and where I wouldn’t have been reaching for my iPhone to take two hundred pictures of the frolicking lambs.

LAMBS!!!

LAMBS.

After a bit of aimless wandering through the beautiful English countryside, I finally approached my destination: Chawton House – Jane Austen’s home.  Chawton House is not only the place where the majority of Jane’s major works were edited and written; it is also the place where Jane was happiest during her life. When I learned that we were required to plan our own independent research trip as a part of our study abroad curriculum, I knew that I wanted to embark on a Jane Austen pilgrimage.

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A sign in Chawton.

Ever since I picked up my first Austen novel years ago, I found myself captivated by her characters, their stories, and their relationships, most notably, Anne Elliot in Persuasion, and the burgeoning romance between Lizzie Bennett and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. After spending a day and a half traveling through Bath and Winchester – two other places where Jane lived during her lifetime – I ended up in Chawton: the heart of Jane’s England.

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Jane Austen’s house.

To say that I had an English major geek-out moment upon entering the Jane’s house was an understatement – I actually teared up as I entered this sacred literary space. During my exploration, I stumbled upon Jane’s original writing desk in the dining room. It was tucked away against the wall near a large paneled window, which offered a view across the street, where a small tea place and a parking lot now reside.  In Jane’s time, this view likely looked out over a serene pastoral landscape.

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Jane Austen’s writing desk.

I crouched down next to Jane’s writing desk in the dining room, and stared out the window, so that I could see the view Jane had as she was penning her famous works. I pictured Jane sitting at this small desk, quill pen in hand, sunlight now shining in, and I tried to imagine what was going through her mind. It was incredible to realize that all of her timeless works were crafted and edited at this tiny round table looking out at the countryside.

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Displayed on a table in Jane’s house.

Visiting Chawton offered me an exciting, yet also tranquil escape from the tourist commotion of Bath, and even Winchester. I explored the home of one of the most famous authors of all-time, but I also felt immersed in the pastoral beauty of England – something I had not previously experienced. During my brief stay in Chawton, I felt most at home, like Jane, in this quaint, rural village, surrounded by bleating sheep, the soft chirping of birds, and a vast array of flowers.

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2 thoughts on “A Journey into Jane Austen’s World

  1. I studied abroad last fall in Norwich as well, however I was in the science program. I wish I knew about Jane Austen’s house because I love her work! The summer going into my senior year of high school I read “Persuasion”. I thought I was going to be reading another dull book; however I was pleasantly surprised. I agree with your point that it is incredible to witness first hand where she produced such amazing work. When I was in Norwich I visited the home of Charles Darwin. Just as you were surprised that Jane Austen wrote at a tiny round table, I was taken aback by the fact that Darwin developed many of his scientific discoveries in a quaint and peaceful home outside of London. I also enjoyed your photographs, they added a nice touch to your post and show that even though her home was minimalistic, it did not prevent her from creating great writing.

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  2. Wow, Alex, your writing is absolutely beautiful! I love how you describe Chawton House, the English countryside, and your feelings upon entering the house. It’s really interesting to think about the physical places that real authors lived and wrote in. So often we think of famous writers as these amorphous presences that we forget that they were real people like us. I can totally empathize with your English major geek-out moment; I had one myself in Oxford when I saw original illustrations by J. R. R. Tolkien and J. K. Rowling. I wish I had been able to visit Austen’s house when I was abroad! It’s definitely on my “To-Do” list next time I find myself in the UK.

    P. S. Love the Lambs.

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