Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Holiday in England - Hampshire, Jane Austen Country

My sister-in-law Jill is starting a new business as a tour guide. She intends to take small groups on tours that are slightly different from the large coach tours. We volunteered to be a test group, and went on two of her tours during our holiday in September.

The first was a tour in the footsteps of Jane Austen, one of England's greatest authors. The county of Hampshire seems to be promoting itself as her home, with road signs saying: "Welcome to Hampshire, Jane Austen Country".

The tour started at the church in Steventon, where Jane's father, and later her brother, served as Rector. Jane must have spent a lot of time there in her early years. The nearby family home was demolished. This small, simple church was impressive in its own way, and the surrounding villages are pretty, with some thatched cottages.

Then we went to Winchester, where Jane lived during her final months. She received medical care for her illness, believed to be either Addison's disease or Hodgkin's Lymphoma. She died at the age of 41, and was buried in Winchester Cathedral. We saw her tombstone in the floor, and a plaque on the wall, but interestingly, neither mention her being a famous author.

The Cathedral is interesting for other reasons, too. The West Window was destroyed during the Civil War, and later the glass pieces were put back together, though not in the original order, so there is a random pattern made out of the pieces that originally held pictures. Faces and hands can be seen here and there. There are also some chests containing the remains of early bishops, kings and a queen.

Then we visited Jane's house in Chawton, where she spent much of her adult life, with her mother and sister. It is now open as a museum, containing objects belonging to Jane and her family, period items and costumes, and many editions of her books. The house seemed comfortable and it was easy to imagine Jane living and writing there, taking her meals and sitting in the garden. The household items and costumes of this period are very familiar from the many films and television adaptations of Jane's novels. One surprise for me was that the gift shop contained items bearing the picture of actor Colin Firth, who played Mr. Darcy in the 1995 BBC series of Pride and Prejudice. While I enjoyed this series, and realize that it introduced many people to Jane Austen for the first time, and while I also appreciate Colin Firth, I found the use of his image to promote a museum devoted to the author who created a character he played rather strange. After all, Jane Austen never saw him and may not have imagined Darcy in this way...

This was the only day of rain during our holiday, but this didn't detract from our enjoyment of the tour. In some ways, rainy weather seems "typically English", and it felt appropriate.


ariadne said...

I love your tour of England reports!
I really like Jane Austen's books and have read most of them so far. Colin Firth is my favourite! But I don't really think that souvenirs depicting him add to a Jane Austen museum!Does that mean that since he acted in "Mama Mia" Skopelos island should have his face on T-shirts?

Ruth Ludlam said...

Thanks, I'm glad you enjoy them! There should be at least two more holiday episodes, along with a report about an art exhibition and some more book reviews.