Jane Austen's House
Visit Jane Austen's House in the delightful village of Chawton, Hampshire
Jane Austen's House
Jane Austen is one of England's most cherished novelists. She is so well-loved in Britain that she has made it onto our £10.00 note, the ultimate honour. Chawton was Jane's home for the last eight years of her life. Jane lived in a village cottage, and her brother, Edward, owned the Elizabethan manor nearby.
Chawton is considered the most important 'Austen' site in the world. Chawton is the only place that Jane lived, revised, wrote, and published a must-visit if you are an 'Austen' fan.
While Austen's literary works provide a witty and colourful insight to 19th-century society, Chawton delivers an intimate and treasured portrait of the woman herself. Here you will be able to see her writing table, first editions of her most famous works, and Austen family heirlooms. Our day tour from London; Jane Austen's England is ideal for those who adore her writing.
Jane Austen (1775-1817) - A brief synopsis of her life
Jane was born in the small Hampshire village of Steventon on the 16th December 1775. It is still a quiet place today with a population of around 250. Her father was the kind-hearted local clergyman, always with a warm smile. Contemporary figures regarded both her mother and father as a handsome couple. They passed on those good looks to their children.
Jane was one of eight children, six brothers and her beloved sister Cassandra. Her eldest brother James (1765-1819) became a clergyman like his father, George (1766-1838) lived a long life but unfortunately suffered from a mental and physical disorder. Edward (1767-1852) had a charmed life and was socially adopted by wealthy but childless Thomas Knight, a relative of Jane's father. Thomas made Edward his heir and sent him on the Grand Tour of Europe. The fourth brother was less focused and became a captain in the local militia, a banker and eventually settled as a clergyman. Then came Cassandra, Jane's devoted and loving older sister. The brothers Francis (1774-1865) and Charles (1779-1852), the only younger sibling, had successful careers in the Royal Navy and became admirals. It is no coincidence that Jane writes affectionately and knowledgeably about the Royal Navy in 'Persuasion'.
Cassandra and Jane were inseparable sisters and went to boarding school in an old Abbey in Reading. The elderly Mrs Latournelle taught the girls the basics. Still, it seems she spent most of her time retelling stories of her past adventures in London. Both girls enjoyed it immensely, but it didn't do much for their education, and they were returned home and taught by their father. Jane spoke of her father's.' indescribable tenderness as a father' and his 'sweet benevolent smile.'
The rectory was full of books, and Jane read Shakespeare, the novels of Fielding, Goldsmith and Fanny Burney. The Austen children were all avid readers and read-aloud. Jane was writing short stories, plays and books from eleven onwards.
By all accounts, Jane was an excellent dancer and would frequently attend balls. To be a fly on the wall and see Jane Austen led out on the dance floor by the master of ceremonies and introduced to the crowd. Dancing at arm's length and swapping partners during the dance was respectable during Austen's time. However, a new dance from Germany called 'The Waltz' was rather scandalous. Couple's holding each other close and making direct eye contact was considered inappropriate by polite society.
Elder sisters tended to chaperon unmarried sisters to these events. In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia, at 16 is the most volatile of the Bennet daughters, says to her older sister 'How I should like to be married before any of you, and then I would chaperone you about to all the balls!'. Such dancing events feature in Austen's books. To be married was the only respectable career for women in those days, and the balls were one of the very few places you could meet members of the opposite sex and converse. A reflection of the times' injustice of the is seen in her characters' anguish that we love so much.
In Persuasion, Anne Elliot, faced with moving to Bath, she speaks of 'dreading the possible heats of September in all the white glare of Bath and grieving to forgo all the influence, so sweet and so sad, of the autumnal months in the country.'
Jane must have taken the news badly of the Austen family relocation to Bath in 1800. Note she talks of the white glare of Bath, the newly built city of oolitic limestone had not yet mellowed to the more attractive golden hues we know of today. Our guide will take you on a walking tour of Bath, and he or she will show you the ballrooms, museum of costume and former Austen home at 4 Sydney Street.
During a seaside holiday on the south coast of England Jane becomes acquainted with a young man (unknown) and a romance developed. Her family seemed to accept and respect the gentleman; everything was falling into place for Jane. The gentlemen left for a while on business or maybe personal reasons. Still, he made it clear he would return before the end of their holiday. Not long after they parted ways, Jane received horrifying news of his sudden death.
The following year Jane received an offer of marriage from Harris Bigg-Wither. She was 26 and considered almost middle-aged. Therefore the proposal was welcome, and Jane accepts and the following day rejects. She did not love him or feel that she could. Another disaster struck, Mrs Anne Lefroy, a family friend, a close companion of Jane is thrown from her horse and killed. Her beloved father dies in 1805 and the family decide to leave Bath, hopefully leaving the unhappy memories behind.
Chawton and the novels
The Austen's lived for a time in Southampton with Jane's brother Frank. In 1809, Jane's brother Edward who had inherited properties in Kent and Hampshire offered them the cottage in Chawton.
These were happy times; Jane entertained her many (24) nieces and nephews. Gardening seemed to be a passion as was winemaking - piano playing, sowing and of course, writing. The publication of Sense and Sensibility (1811), was a massive achievement. So entertaining, reflecting the life she knew in small country towns and the culture of the day. She was now 35 and said of her book 'I am never too busy to think of S&S. I can no more forget it than a mother can forget her sucking child.' Her name did not appear on the cover of the book. Clergyman's daughters did not put their names to works of fiction in 1811. It was published, identifying the author as 'by a lady' with no mention of her real name. Jane made a profit of £140, a handsome sum in 1811.
Jane draws her characters from real life with such detail and clarity; her readers back then recognised their husbands, brothers and aunts. In 1813, came Pride and Prejudice (1813), Sheridan thought it the most clever book he ever read. Sir Walter Scott said he read the book three times over. Then came Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815). In between these two publications, it became known who the author was. Being a success made all the difference, and the public greatly admired her, or at least the progressive types. The future King, the Prince Regent, was a huge fan.
London and last year
Jane loved the London scene, the art galleries, parties and a private tour of the Prince Regents London home. She was at the top of her game parading around the city in an open-top carriage having the time of her life.
Early on in her career, Jane wrote and sold the publishing rights of 'Susan' for £10. The book was never in print and probably sat on a shelve in the publishing house and never read. Henry posed as her agent and paid £10 to have the rights reversed; it worked and the publisher Crosby returned her work and had no idea the novelist was by the now-famous Jane Austen. During the original transaction, Jane gave a false name to save the cultural embarrassment for her family's sake. 'Susan' was reworked and renamed Northanger Abbey and published after her death.
Jane finished Persuasion and was now terribly ill. Jane Austen spent the last few weeks of life in Winchester to be close to her physician. She knew she was dying and wrote to her brother Edward 'I will not boast of my handwriting; neither that nor my face have yet recovered their proper beauty – God Bless you, my dear Edward. If ever you are ill, may you be as tenderly nursed as I have been.' Her beloved sister Cassandra attended her bedside and died in her arms on 18th July 1817 at the age of 41.
Chawton is a fascinating insight into Jane Austen's world. The house is protected and listed and contains items associated with Jane Austen, personal letters and belongings. See her writing-table, first editions of her books and the garden she loved so much. Chawton is a place of pilgrimage to one of the world's great writers.
Touring and accommodation
Our driver-guided tour, Jane Austen's England, is perfect for those with a short amount of time. If you have more time, visit Chawton and Winchester Cathedral (Jane Austen's grave) and stay overnight at Chewton Glen Hotel. The following day can continue with the Austen theme by touring and staying overnight in the City of Bath. We would suggest the Royal Crescent Hotel for your accommodation. There is a wide choice of accommodation in the UK; Cottages, Manor House Hotels and traditional Guest Houses.
If this is your first time to England, we would recommend a custom version of our Town and Country Tour; it covers the famous places and allows you to utilise your private driver-guide by getting-off-the-beaten-path. Our Classic tour of Ireland is a good place to start for the first trip to Ireland, and we suggest the Classic tour of Scotland for your first trip to the bonny Highlands.
One of England's Finest Writers
Discover fascinating life story of Jane Austen
- Add on a visit to Winchester Cathedral
- See Jane Austen's personal effects
- See her writing desk
- Visit the local church and pub
Jane Austen's Home and Museum, Chawton
The Final Winchester Home
Jane Austen's Tomb in Winchester
Anthony Gormley's Sound Two in the Cathedral Crypt
Historic Streets of Winchester