. . . as the sign for Hampshire County proclaimed! Action Jane and I have been having a jolly time here, with her showing me all the sights. In London, we stopped at the British Library. My dear friends, I cannot even describe to you the treasures in their little gallery. Even the sight of one of Jane Austen’s handwritten volumes of juvenalia was overwhelmed by the sheer physical presence of so many manuscripts handwritten by her, by Wordsworth, by Chaucer, and, yes, by Charlotte Brontë (and that was just part of one display case). In the spirit of Brontë/Austen relations, I’ll admit that seeing “Reader, I married him.” in Charlotte’s own hand was simply stunning. And that her writing was more legible than Miss Austen’s. We’ve talked before about how indescribable it is to see handwritten copies of Jane’s work. I think, more than anything, the proof that she and these other were all real people, is overwhelming.
Jane frowned on my friend Mr. Coles’ suggestion that I sit on her tomb and sing New Age chants, so we headed on to her last house, where she lived from 1809 to 1817.
Chawton is a lovely little village, and Jane Austen’s House Museum quite worthy of pilgrimage. Really ridiculously so, given the number of things that were hers and that clearly inspired something in one of the books. I found the lock of her hair another shocking proof that she really lived. Some other highlights:
The sacred writing table. It is, as mentioned, very small! In fact, I can’t see how Jane’s writing desk, which was at the British Library, actually fit on it. I’ve heard people say that everything in Austen’s life was small: her paper, her table, the rooms in her house. Paper and table, yes, but to this apartment dweller, the rooms in her house seemed plenty commodious! Not huge, but nothing I’d turn my nose up at.
The actual dress worn by Kate Winslet as she fell down the hill in Sense and Sensibility! Really! Squee!!
Miss Osborne and other aspiring Regency chefs: Here is the recipe book Jane’s friend Martha Lloyd kept when she lived with them. I couldn’t read it, unfortunately, but I have no doubt it’s for jugged hare or some other delight.
And here is Action Jane in the kitchen. To the left of the fireplace is the safe that Miss Austen had the keys of, where the sugar and tea were kept.
In reward for our pilgrimage, we had an amazing cream tea at Cassandra’s Cup across the street. Cream tea consists of tea, plus one or two scones with jam and clotted cream to spread on. Clotted cream! Heavenly. Then, because I am a thorough pilgrimess, we headed down to Lyme Regis.
Lyme is the seaside resort on the south coast where Louisa Musgrove falls down the Cobb steps in Persuasion. (Falling down things is a favorite among Austen girls, isn’t it?)
We arrived in Lyme at sunset, and went to the sea first, as Jane says “lingering, as all must linger and gaze on a first return to the sea, who ever deserve to look on it at all.” Believe it or not, we actually stayed at the Cobb Arms, and next morning, we walked along the lower Cobb.
Jane wanted to walk along the upper Cobb, but I wouldn’t let her. Indeed, considering that it’s a sloping stone walkway, with no handrails, 8 feet above the lower Cobb and probably 20 feet above the harbor, and very windy, I’m surprised the ladies were walking there at all.
I liked Lyme Regis, but then I do have a weakness for seaside resort towns. And Lyme has some commercialism, but not too much. I don’t think Jane would be displeased, were she to return. However, as far as I know, I didn’t see any unknown cousins who will later be charmed by my beauty. One can always hope.
Next up: Bath!
Photo credits: ©2011 by Heather Dever. All rights reserved.
We have spoken before about Jane Austen’s individualistic punctuation. Many of us feel that Austen’s incessant dashes, and other weird habits were ebullient—that we’d like to be as free as she was, even if our ever-copyediting hearts might tidy things up a little bit for other people.
Now there is a fracas afoot regarding Austen’s punctuation! Word on the street is that two chapters of the original manuscript for Persuasion will be on view at the British Library from November 12 to April 3 as part of the Evolving English exhibit. (Hey everyone, field trip!) Well, there has been back and forth about Miss Austen and her punctuation. Here’s Roger Walshe, curator of the exhibit:
Austen hardly punctuates at all, so what you get is a much more urgent form of language which becomes more restrained when it is edited. There tends to be an awful lot of clauses and sub-clauses. There is the odd comma, but they aren’t always in the most rational places. There are no paragraphs. It’s like she’s telling a story rather than writing one. The amazing thing is that there are so few corrections. You can imagine her thinking through a scene and then rushing to write it down. That’s possibly why the dialogue works so well, and why [film adaptations] are so successful.There is a real sense of urgency – more so than the slightly more restrained form you get from the novels.
This has led to snide comments about people’s comma usage and spirited rebuttals about artistic license (which take a comment of Walshe’s quite out of context). I’m kind of expecting that we’ll next see something about Jane Austen being the foremother of lolspeak and generally informal writing habits online, like abbreviations and the elongation of words to suggest tones of voice. (I feel impossibly elderly writing that, but wtf, i can roflol all night looooonnngggg. Righhhhtttt.)
All I’m saying is, I love to see a good comma fracas, and especially one where Our Girl Jane takes center stage! People getting passionate about language, that’s what we need! I hardly even care what they say—it just does my heart good—. With extra dashes!—