I doubt Jane Austen would have imagined the novels she anonymously wrote in the late 18th and early 19th centuries would still be read and studied 200 years after her death. Like many, I was introduced to Austen at school. Since then her witty books have permeated through my life in various guises: from the original works to popular TV series (who can forget a sodden Colin Firth emerging from a lake in Pride and Prejudice) to modern adaptations such as Clueless and books influenced by her writing like Bridget Jones.
But what made the great author tick? What inspired her? Some of answers lie in the various places she lived and wrote in the UK. With VisitEngland celebrating 2017 as the year of literary heroes and the 200th anniversary of Austen’s death, I have compiled some of the special events and places to visit to get your Jane Austen fix. Ideal for long-established Austen fans as well as younger ones studying her works and even those who have yet to appreciate her written word.
Born in Steventon near Basingstoke, Jane Austen lived in her father’s rectory during her formative years and spent most of her life in Hampshire. Every year the county celebrates the great author with Jane Austen Regency Week, a nine-day festival in June. It forms part of this year’s Jane Austen 200 events. Be transported back in time with the annual Alton Regency Day. Dressing in costume is encouraged at the family-friendly free event on 17 June.
Other events include guided tours of Chawton and Alton, talks from experts about the novelist and Austen’s most famous character, Mr Darcy. You can listen to Regency music as well as learn some moves at the Regency dance workshop. They would certainly come in handy for the Alton Regency ball. Yes, really! Check out the Regency Week website for more information.
Jane would often visit the town of Basingstoke to shop – and dance. From June – September a free art trail has been set up, entitled Sitting with Jane. Local artists have created 24 unique Jane Austen-inspired benches to link the trail locations together and explain more about the author’s little-known association with the town.
Austen often visited Brighton and mentions it with some distaste in Pride and Prejudice where Lydia Bennett flees with her lover George Wickham. As part of the bicentenary of her death, the Brighton Pavilion is putting on a special exhibit, Jane Austen By The Sea, looking at her relationship with coastal resorts and life in Brighton. Austen dedicated Emma to George IV in 1815 when he was Prince Regent as he was a big fan of her work. The King’s personal, specially-bound copy of the book will also be on display.
In 1801 Jane and her family moved to Bath and it’s here she wrote Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. A starting point for Austen’s time in Bath is the Jane Austen Centre which explores how Bath impacted on her life. There are clothes you can dress up in and you can learn more about 18-century manners such as the language of the fan! Complete with Regency tea rooms, it was one of my must-see places when I visited Bath in 2011.
During her time in the city, Austen visited the Bath Assembly Rooms on a number of occasions and it gets a mention in both the novels she wrote there. Step back in time at the Georgian venue and admire its huge ballroom. The space is free to enter and also houses the Fashion Museum where visitors young and old can dress up in Georgian costumes.
Austen lived at four houses in Bath but the majority of her time was spent on Sydney Street which is now a B&B. Bath is also having its own Jane Austen Festival in September. The 10-day celebration from 8th -18th September includes a costumed ball and charity promenade.
Jane Austen spent three periods of her life in Southampton: as a schoolgirl, young woman and her family lived there for two years with her brother, Frank, before settling at Chawton. There’s a heritage trail you can take and a Jane Austen festival taking place at the end of September.
Following the death of Austen’s father in 1805, the family struggled financially. After a stint in Bath and Southampton, they eventually settled in Chawton. The house where Austen spent the last eight years of her life is now a museum dedicated to the author.
At the Jane Austen’s House Museum you can explore the cottage and garden and imagine what life was like for the author. It also has a purpose-built Learning Centre with interactive exhibits which are fun for all the family. Her brother, Edward, lived in a nearby Elizabethan manor house which is now Chawton Library and can be explored with plenty of activities for younger children. A special exhibition about Austen is taking place between June and October.
Despite suffering with ill health Austen continued to be active and write. But in May 1817, two of her siblings, Cassandra and Henry, brought her to a doctor in Winchester for treatment. She died on 18th July 1817, aged 41. Recent evidence suggests she may have died from lymphoma, a blood cancer. Her funeral took place at Winchester Cathedral and she is buried in the north aisle of the nave. As part of Jane Austen 200, the cathedral is putting on special events including guided tours and a special Evensong service on the 200th anniversary of her death.
Jane Austen on film
If you are a fan of the TV and film adaptations of Austen’s work then you may fancy checking out some of the key filming locations. Take a walking trail around Lyme Park in Cheshire where Pride and Prejudice was filmed including the infamous wet shirt scene which propelled Colin Firth into sex symbol status.
For the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightly, Basildon Park in Berkshire was used for Mr Bingley’s home, Netherfield. Claydon House in Buckinghamshire was the setting of Emma starring Gwenyth Paltrow while Saltram House in Plymouth was used for Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility. You can view letters the Austen exchanged with Frances, the first countess, there. The National Trust properties have beautiful grounds which are perfect to explore with children.
Although not used in the filming, Jane Austen stayed at the magnificent Chatsworth House in Derbyshire while writing Pride and Prejudice and it is believed to be the inspiration behind Pemberley, Mr Darcy’s estate. She also drew inspiration from Stoneleigh Abbey which was the home of her maternal relatives. See where she got ideas for the setting of books such as Mansfield Park in a special Jane Austen tour.
Check out the Jane Austen 200 website for further events and exhibits happening around the UK in 2017 and the VisitEngland website for more literary inspired trips.
Are you a Jane Austen fan? Have you visited any of these locations or fancy checking them out?
*Disclosure: I am working with VisitEngland as part of the Year of Literary Heroes, looking at the best travel across the country for those who love books. Check out the #bookengland tag to discover more and share your experiences.
** Pictures courtesy of Wander Mum, VisitEngland and Pixabay
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