Jane Austens Hampshire, HampshireAll but five years of Jane Austen 's tragically short life were spent in the county of Hampshire . Those who love her work can gain valuable insights into her life, inspirations, and work, by visiting a few of the places that were important to her in the county. The Hampshire countryside, once off the main roads, still retains the gentle calm that is the background tone of Jane Austen's writing. As events ruffle that calm its significance grows, as the model for genteel life and a suitable contrast to excitements.
Jane Austen was born in the tiny village of Steventon, easily reached via junction 7 of the M3 to the southwest of Basingstoke. The rectory where she lived the first 25 years of her life is long gone, but the church where her father had one of his two livings (the other being at Deane) is little changed since her day. The Austen family would have worshipped at St Nicholas's every Sunday. The little lanes around the settlement give a feel for the quiet of an English country existence in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Those who wish to travel more realistically back to those times will enjoy walking the footpaths northwards from Steventon to Deane and Ashe - but they should of course beware of getting wet and suddenly taking ill with one of those Austen heroine colds that are so worryingly dangerous. Here you can spot Ashe Park, where James Holder who rented it in her day once unsettled Jane by being in the room alone with her - the bounder. In this area too is Deane House, where Jane as daughter of the church incumbent was invited to dances given by the Harwood family, providing material for many scenes in her novels.
For grander settings, and a view of the higher echelons of society, Jane had (among others) The Vyne , originally a Tudor hall, given a Gothic makeover - Jane's view of all things gothic forms the basis of Northanger Abbey. At the Vyne in Sherborne St John, now run by the National Trust, Jane mixed with the great and the good of the county, and the arrival of its owner from 1790, William Chute, stirred local interest as much as Mr Darcy or Mr Bingley ever did in Pride and Prejudice. The Vyne was far enough away, and over poor roads, for it to need a carriage to take the Austens to the balls there, again providing the future novelist with excellent material for her work, the hustle and complication of such arrangements providing a precursor to the social event itself. The Austens had the entry (sometimes) to the annual ball at Hurstbourne Park, some 10 or 12 miles to the west of Steventon. The house was destroyed some time ago, but the countryside is still impressive, and nearby is Ibthorpe, where her friends the Lloyds lived, her brother James marrying Mary Lloyd in 1797 in St Peter's church at Hurstbourne St Tarrant, another church that gives a feel for the changeless elements of English country life.
From 1801 to 1805 the Austens moved to Bath , but after her father died they returned to Hampshire, first living in Southampton , then in 1809 in Chawton. Southampton is much changed from Jane Austen's day, but during her time there the family enjoyed visits to the New Forest and Netley Abbey, and boating on the Itchen. She knew another of Hampshire great ports too, visiting Portsmouth to see the two Austen brothers who were in the navy there. The naval museums in Portsmouth offer visitors the chance to sample life in that era. Meetings and life in Portsmouth gave Jane the inspiration for Mansfield Park.
The only Hampshire house occupied by Jane Austen and still standing is in Chawton to the south of Alton, once on the main road between London and Winchester, but now off the beaten track. It was here she moulded her previous work into the forms we know best today. This house is now a museum run by the Jane Austen Memorial Trust, with her writing table and various other belongings on view. Chawton House in the same village was once owned by one of her brothers, and is a centre for literary study now, which can be visited by arrangement.
The final Austen site in Hampshire is Winchester Cathedral , where the novelist who died aged just 41 is buried, and where a plaque and stained glass window commemorate her life and work.
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