Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tuesday, July 6, 2010 Jane Austen's House!

The entrance throught the garden to Jane Austen's house.

Yesterday I made the pilgrimage to see the last home of my soul sister, Jane Austen. The house is in a little village named, Chawton, in Hampshire. The train doesn't go there. You have to take the train to Alton, a slightly larger village, and then take the bus to Alton. Or, at least that was the plan.

Flowers from Jane's garden.
When I got to Alton, a lady told me where to wait for the bus. I went to the bus stand and dutifully checked the posted routes and schedules. When the bus got there, just to be on the safe side, I asked the bus driver if this was the right bus. He looked at me as if I were speaking Chinese! Now I know I slur my speech, but come on! No one has had that much trouble understanding me. I tried several times to get an answer one way or another out of him. He never spoke above a whisper and never gave me a straight answer. So, I didn't get on the bus! Fortunately, I spied a taxi service close to the bogus bus stop. An intelligent cabby, who had no problems understanding me, zipped me right over to Chawton, no sweat! He said, "Don't worry lovey, the buses are rubbish!"

This is the chair and table where she wrote her
 most famous books.  Can you believe how
small and delicate it is?!?
And there I was, at Jane's house. It was beautiful and peaceful and so English. You couldn't say the village was untouched, but it had preserved it's essential English spirit. It wasn't hard at all to imagine Jane and her sister, Cassandra, walking down to the village church or a few houses over to the thatched cottage where the blacksmith's family lived. The house was considered a large house in Austen's time. We would think it was a medium sized or small house today. They had the house set up with important letters and documents from her day and furniture, china, and DRESSES from their home.

I cried, of coarse! I knew many of the plot points in her novels came from her life and the lives of her family, but seeing where she lived brought it all home. Did you know that she fell in love when she was 20, but neither she nor the young man she loved had money, so they didn't marry. That means that her novel, Persuasion, is a sort of, "what if things had gone differently" novel. So poignant!

This is the bed that she shared with her sister, Cassandra, her
entire life.  The beautiful dress was one of her own.  It looks just
 like the dresses the women wear in the movies of her novels. 
 At least Hollywood got that right.
The most touching part were the letters Cassandra wrote to the family when Jane died and the doctor's analysis of Jane's death. She was only 41 when she died! She was sick the last 16 months of her life. But the symptoms would come and go; she would have a bad spell, then start feeling better. How cruel to have hope over and over again. Today, doctors think she had Addison's Disease. Ironically, they can make this diagnosis because she did such a good job recording her own symptoms. The Austen Trust had those letters on display. True to her spirit, she down played her considerable pain to her family, making sarcastic, playful remarks about it. She was more honest in letters to her doctor and to her favorite sister, Cassandra.

St. Nicholas Parrish Church in Chawton where Jane's
mother and sister were buried.  Jane was buried 
at Winchester Cathedral. Even then, even though she
was a strange, spinster writer, they knew she was special!
Afterwards, I went down the road a bit and saw her church and the graves of her mother and Cassandra. To be honest, it was a little creepy. I was alone in the church and it was old, but not beautiful. It smelled of incense, which I don't like, and water damage. The church yard was beautiful, but I think a vampire would find it quite cozy! Not my cup of tea.

Well, if you go to Chawton, just remember that the village pretty much shuts down at 4:00 P.M. (16:00 in British time.). You can't get food, but you can get a pint and skittles?!?, and the rubbish buses are doing the school runs! So, I thought, "Hey, I'll call my friendly cab service!" and went to the village call box. Well, it turns out that 4 PM is rush hour in Chawton.  "Madame, we'll send a driver to get you as soon as we finish the school runs."  It's that kind of village. 

Just as I finished the call, the nearby primary school dismissed, and I walked down a couple of blocks behind second and third form kids and their moms and dads.  The conversations were remarkable similar to any you would hear in any American home town.  "How was your day, sweetheart?"  "Good!  I got to feed the turtle today!  But then Anna said I couldn't sit next to her because she was saving the seat for Ian.  What are we having for tea, Mum?"  Somehow the accent made the conversations a little more exotic.  I was sorry to leave Chawton. Suddenly, London seemed noisy and frantic and exhausting.

But London didn't let me down. When I got back to London Bridge Station, I followed the crowds over the Hungerford pedestrian bridge. There were street performers playing some decent Jazz at the base of the bridge, a light breeze was ruffling my hair, and the sun was kissing the waves on the Thames. Not a bad end to a beautiful day!


The garden was the epitome of a truly lovely English garden, and I felt truly jealous!

The British just can't bring themselves to be truly blunt.
The graveyard at St. Nicholas Church.  Cozy, if you are a Victorian vampire.

The next door neighbors have a nice house!

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