A visit to Chawton

Having first encountered Jane Austen as a reluctant teenager, I would never describe myself as her biggest fan. However, when I paid a visit to the cottage in Chawton where she wrote most of her opus today, I have to confess to feeling a certain awe. As I gazed down at the little, battered, wobbly octagonal table below, shunted up close to the window to get the most of the light, a distinct frisson went through me. At that table, no bigger than a MacBook,  Jane Austen had scritched and scratched her string of tightly observed novels which would go from there around the world and back. Statesmen, poets, singers and soldiers would be inspired by them. They would be translated into languages of which their author had never heard, and uploaded onto devices which would have appeared to her like the stuff of legend, or worse.

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My frisson of excitement was matched only by the chill of disappointment I felt at the end of my visit. Whilst buying a postcard of a prayer by the famous author (some of the text is below), I overheard an enquiry by a young man who was contemplating a paid visit to the house. On learning that this was not in fact the place where recent films of Jane Austen’s books had been filmed, his disappointment was palpable and he turned away. ‘Missing the point’, is the phrase which comes to mind…


May we now, and on each return of night

Consider how the past day has been spent by us

What have been our prevailing thoughts, words and actions during it

And how we can acquit ourselves of evil.

Give us a thankful sense of  the blessings in which we live

Of the many comforts of our lot,

That we may not deserve to lose them by discontent or indifference.

– from a prayer by Jane Austen