My daughter had visited Chawton before me and had excitedly told me about her visit there. All I wanted to do then was to make the pilgrimage myself to my favorite author Jane Austen’s home and pay homage too. I became her fan probably when I was 11 or 12. To my parents relief I had finally started to enjoy reading. My mother sent me to the library during summer vacation to borrow Pride and Prejudice and asked me to read it. I was hooked. I fell in love with the book, and, naturally, Mr. Darcy. I have passed the love for Pride and Prejudice on to my daughter. There have been plenty of afternoons or after dinner quiet time when two of us have enjoyed the Pride and Prejudice TV series or movie.
My husband and I visited Jane Austen’s home in a charming village of Chawton on one lazy afternoon on a sunny but cold fall day. This is where Jane Austen wrote and published Pride and Prejudice and five of her other books.
Chawton is a small village near Alton in Hampshire. We decided to take the train. Alton is about hour and half by train from London. Our plan was to get to Alton and get a taxi to take us to Chawton, which is about 6-7 minutes drive from the station. We disembarked the train and looked for a taxi. There was hardly anyone in sight when we came out of the station. Only one another couple had gotten off the train. I could see that they were also looking around for a taxi to go to Chawton. We called up the taxi and decided to share the ride. Two women fans of Austen on a pilgrimage with their accommodating husbands who were tagging along! (My recommendation is to rent a car from London to drive around to enjoy the Hampshire countryside surrounding Chawton. The little that we saw on our drive to Chawton was beautiful).
Austen’s house is a charming country cottage with a beautiful garden. Jane Austen moved there with her mother and sister Cassandra in 1809 and lived in the house for 8 years. The house was owned by Jane Austen’s brother. She left this house 2 months before her death in 1817 to get treatment for her ill health. She died in Winchester and never returned home.
I stood outside the cottage in a complete awe. I couldn’t believe that I was actually standing outside Jane Austen’s home! The house has the biggest collection of the items that Austen owned. The minute I walked into the house, I felt so emotional. Here I was 200 years later walking in the rooms where Jane Austen walked. In the front room there is a small table near the window where Austen used to sit to write her novels. I stood before it with tears in my eyes. I could imagine her sitting there in her Regency dress and a bonnet dipping her quill in her ink pot and writing. Maybe she stared out the window as she developed the characters of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy! Maybe she imagined the Bennet sisters while sipping her tea! I was here, standing and feeling her presence.
We walked around the house and saw her bedroom and the rest of the rooms. Again, my imagination ran wild. I could imagine her thinking about her writing just before she fell asleep. The house is a museum that has on display the letters Jane wrote, her jewelry and other objects she used. We wandered around the grounds. Part of the garden was shut to the public that day for an event. I was disappointed to say the least.
The last stop on our trip was a late lunch at Cassandra’s Cup Tearoom before we had to head back to London. That was my daughter’s suggestion too. It was late and we were ready for a nice big lunch. The Tearoom is right across the Austen home. We had lunch of hearty soup and sandwiches. The tearoom is charming with garlands of cups hanging from the ceiling. We sat on a table near the window watching Jane Austen’s home across the street. I was still caught up in the wonder of being there. I filled my husband’s ears with the stories about Jane Austen, her books and of course Mr. Darcy.
Note: The trains by South Western Railway to Alton depart from London Waterloo. The train ride is about hour and half. It’s 51 miles southwest of London. It would take about hour and half if you are driving.