Thursday, 16 August 2007

Jane Austen House Museum ~ 2 August 2007

Nestled in the quaint village of Chawton, the Jane Austen House Museum keeps the memory of Jane Austen alive and beautiful. As soon as I stepped into the house, I felt thoroughly welcomed as a guest of the Austen family in 1810. The museum is an independent institution, administered by the Jane Austen Memorial Trust. The staff was very knowledgeable about Jane Austen's life and history, especially the "steward" I spoke with in the gift shop.
Jane Austen lived there from 1809 to 1817, and it now houses many of the family's belongings. Seeing where she resided and learning about her daily life gave me a glimpse into her character. It shone through everything, every handwritten note, every trinket she saved... Learning about what was important to her and what she held dear, I can now see how her heart shines through her works and the legacy she has left behind.

Some examples of the museum's collection include: first-edition prints from the early 1800s, pieces of furniture from the early 1800's (her father's bookcase!), a timeline of her life with literary and historical landmarks, the family's tea dishes, letters, Bibles and prayer books that belonged to the family, the printer's first proof copies for the illustrations of Pride and Prejudice (1894), a display of a scene (Jane and Cassandra mannequins), and outbuildings.
Some of Jane's personal belongings that were displayed include: her manuscript music book, a lock of her hair, her writing table, her donkey carriage, and a sewing case she made for her niece (signed "With Aunt Jane's love").

The grounds had a beautiful garden with benches, so I could sit and take in the scenery and completely immerse myself in Jane's world. Every aspect of the museum was authentic and genuine, much more so than the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. For example, there were actual objects from her life (many contributed by her nieces and nephews); the exhibits related to her family, in detail; and there was a greater focus on her books, rather than the film adaptations. I also appreciated the atmosphere of walking through the Austen home, and the displays complemented the sense of hominess. For example, manuscripts, letters, and photographs were in picture frames, along with their labels and transcripts, and hung on the wall. Items were displayed in cupboards with glass dividers, to create the appearance of current use. Every room was labeled, which made it especially memorable to actually be in Jane Austen's bedroom! The museum was truly a memorial, very honoring to Jane: there were little sprigs of purple flowers laid across chairs and sofas. And the display about her death was beautiful; in her will, she left almost everything to the care of her dear sister, Cassandra. Jane's relationship with her sister seemed the most important in her life, and its preciousness lingered with me long after I left the museum.

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