Leave London to See Where Author Austen Called Home

By Brubaker, Sarah | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, June 8, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Leave London to See Where Author Austen Called Home

Brubaker, Sarah, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

I have always loved Jane Austen for the strength and wit of her female characters. In fact, I am slightly obsessed with everything Jane -- ask my husband, who has had to endure repeated showings of the A&E version of "Pride and Prejudice" starring Colin Firth.

He got dragged into the real thing recently, on a trip to Chawton Village, southwest of London, while we were in the United Kingdom. The author was born in Steventon, lived in Bath and Southampton, and spent considerable time in Kent. In particular, I wanted to visit Chawton Cottage, because that is where Jane spent her final years and wrote on a very famous and rather small writing table.

I was actually a little nervous -- it wasn't like I was going to meet Jane Austen, but I was about to meet a part of her.

The house was exactly the size I imagined; comfortable, but not small. There were the amber crosses that Charles Austen, Jane's seafaring brother, had given to her and her sister, Cassandra -- famous to us Janeites. On the door leading to the staircase, a sign warned that it squeaked, and said Jane liked it that way so she could hide her manuscripts if she heard someone coming.

Then, there it was: Jane's writing table. I stood and stared, amazed that she could write a brilliant work like "Persuasion" on such a tiny table. It was beautiful to me. It looked so well-loved and well-used.

The BBC had loaned the museum costumes from a recent production of "Sense and Sensibility," so we got to see them placed around the house, which was a nice treat. It was a lovely visit to the quiet village, but we headed back to London that afternoon, and I was satisfied to have accomplished one of my lifelong dreams.

If you go

If you make it out for a Jane adventure, Chawton Village is an easy day trip from London, or there are several bed and breakfasts nearby that you can look into at www.chawton.info.

Getting there: The Jane Austen's House Museum Web site says to take a train to Alton, the X64 bus route to Alton Butts, then walk about two miles into Chawton Village. The train from London takes an hour or so to get to Alton.

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