For Jane Austen lovers, membership and gift ideas
I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!
2017 is an important year for Jane Austen fans. It marks the bicentenary of her death (that’s 200 years).
Jane Austen is surely one of Britain’s best loved novelists. Pride and Prejudice , Emma , Sense and Sensibility are three of her works and having read them or seen the film or series and discovered more about her fascinating life, it's easy to see how her life and her experiences in it contributed to the plots and the daily and seasonal life of English country gentry. Her six books give us a considerable insight into the lives of women in the early 19th century.
Her family’s travels around the south east during her life time gave her much material for her novels. And they give rise to several membership opportunities en route. Here are just a few places Jane Austen was assocated with.
Born in Steventon, north east Hampshire
Jane Austen was born in the village of Steventon in North East Hampshire. Her parents were the Reverend George Austen and Cassandra Leigh. She had 5 brothers – two were clergymen, one inherited estates in Kent and Hampshire from a distant cousin; two more were in the Royal Navy. Her only sister never married.
Jane lived most of the first 25 years of her life here, although she and her sister went to schools in Oxford, Southampton and Reading. Their schooling was cut short because of the family's finances. She made trips to Godmersham Park in Kent to visit her brother Edward, and to Bath to stay with relatives. During the 1790s she penned initial versions of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey. Shortly after in 1804, her father retired and the family moved to Bath, a stay which provided much material for her books Persuasion and Northanger Abbey.
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Then moved to Bath
Life was hectic for Jane in Bath - rounds of shopping, visiting people and entertaining. And in Bath, you’ll find the Jane Austen Centre which tells Jane’s story and also the effect living in Bath had on her and on her writing. They have a free membership to their Jane Austen site and services, with full access to the 1,000 articles from their online magazine, regular Austen news, offers from their online Gift Shop, a weekly quiz and a welcome 10% off voucher for any online purchases.
Holidays in Lyme Regis
From there the family had holidays on the south coast to resorts such as Lyme Regis. It was a fashionable town at the time, so taking walks, dancing in the Assembliy Rooms and bathing were frequent amusements. Here Jane got the background she needed for Persuasion - the novel is part set there..
The Lyme Regis Museum has a number of objects on display relating to Jane Austen and her times and it has a Friends of the Museum membership. And every year, there's a Jaunt with Jane weekend - a Jane Austen themed few days.
In Bath, Jane’s father died and a few months later, Jane, her mother and sister lost the income they had received from his pension. Brother Edward had them to stay with him in Southampton for a while, and when he and his wife had their baby and moved to the Isle of Wight. Jane, her mother and sister moved to Chawton. Here Jane and her sister took a walk most days, they shopped in Alton and collected the family post there.
Lived in Chawton
In Chawton, you’ll find the Jane Austen’s House Museum which you can visit and where Jane revised Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility. Her brother negotiated with a publisher for her and publications began to appear. The museum tells the story of Jane and her family, and there are plenty of Austen family portraits, original manuscripts and memorabilia. You stand behind the table Jane used for writing, and stroll in the garden just as the Austen women did. There's a gift shop and you can visit the kitchen and bakehouse.
You can also take a walk which covers about 4 and a half miles from the centre of Chawton which takes you towards St Nicolas' Church where Jane's mother and sister are buried. And you can also spot Gilbert White's Selbourne village en route. The walk takes you to Farringdon.
Edward inherited the estate at Chawton, albeit from distant relatives, and it included Chawaton House, or the Great House as it was known. Jane visited it often, and today, Chawton House Library fosters research and understanding of early women writers. It has several membership schemes (or Become a Friend schemes) for people in the UK, North America, and equally you can also Adopt a Book or Conserve a Book. There’s a lot on at the library, from gardening talks, recitals, conferences, events and exhibitions and I was enthralled to find out about this venue and what it’s going on.
Very exciting for me is the chance to Sponsor a Shire Horse since the Estate has four Shire horses who help to maintain the estate in an environmentally friendly way. They help visitors to understand more about our agricultural heritage.
Died in Winchester
After a few years at Chawton, Jane sadly began to suffer ill-health. She went to Winchester for treatment but died there on 18 July 2017 age 41. She was buried in Winchester Cathedral. A year later, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published.
The Jane Austen Society of the United Kingdom aims to foster the appreciation and study of the work, life and times of Jane Austen and the Austen family. Membership enables you to receive the Society’s Report, newsletters in the spring and autumn, with details of forthcoming events, activities, book reviews etc, and they can the Annual General Meeting at Chawton House with an address by a distinguished speaker.
So Jane Austen has left quite a legacy, with her famous novels which have brought pleasure to millions of people and inspired others to put pen to paper. It’s been a fascinating journey finding out more about the woman whose books have brought me such enormous pleasure. Membership will help you discover more