I am a huge Jane Austen fan. I proudly consider myself one of the many in the legion of Janeites who annually read Austen and uphold (or deride) Masterpiece Classic adaptations. I subscribe to quote-a-day text messages, memorize favorite scenes, and characterize myself after her heroines. It might be a little overboard. Some might call it a little Austentatious, but I couldn’t be the only one who cheered when Jane Austen became the new face of the £10 note, right?
Naturally, for literary travel, I think we all know where I would want to go. Luckily, I’ve been to a few.
Steventon and Chawton in Hampshire
“There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.” –Pride and Prejudice
Seeing as most of her novels tend to take place in a small village like Meryton in Pride and Prejudice or Highbury in Emma, it’s no surprise to find that Austen spent most of her life in a similar setting in Hampshire.
She was born and raised in Steventon, where she wrote her first drafts of Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, and Pride and Prejudice. After a time in Bath, she returned to live her final years in Chawton. This home was later turned into the Jane Austen House Museum, where you can see Jane Austen’s writing desk and objects that belonged to her and her sister. There’s also a certified Jane Austen donkey cart with plaque and a library with international versions of her books.
I did get to visit the museum, and word of advice: Chawton shuts down in the afternoon. We found it difficult to find lunch when we left the museum, though everyone was really nice and regretful to turn us down.
Two of Austen’s brothers served in the navy, and in Mansfield Park, Fanny Price’s father is a retired lieutenant and her brother is an officer. As a big naval city, Portsmouth stands out to me because it isn’t the typical village or societal hub that comes to mind with Austen.
Chatsworth House, Derbyshire
“She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted.” –Pride and Prejudice
If you’re a diehard Janeite with a good amount of time on your hands, you can always refer to Chapter 42 of Pride and Prejudice and take what I call the Lizzie Bennet Road Trip. It’s complete with an itinerary of some of her stops en route to Derbyshire, from Birmingham to Warwick, and has some of the great homes she visited in the county, from Matlock to Dovedale. Plus, you have an advantage because this trip wouldn’t take you three weeks.
But, like Austen, we’ll gloss over all of that and head straight to Chatsworth House. Because while Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley is fictional, many scholars believe that Austen based it off of this particular estate (she mentioned it by name in the book too), and man do the photographs look gorgeous.
If this was Darcy’s house, I can see why he would think so well of himself. Well, you can at least see why he would be socially awkward, living in a big, old house by himself, save for the hundreds of servants and his sister of course.
Box Hill, Surrey
While Box Hill doesn’t hold fond memories in Emma, I think it would be a lovely place to visit, even if her picnic didn’t go very well.
Besides, Emma preferred staying in Surrey, rather than gallivanting to London like the others. It would be nice to see why and maybe enjoy the green landscapes, which typically come to mind for Austen. Plus, time away from technology and modern architecture can easily let us escape in Austen’s books.
“I believe I shall always be talking of Bath, when I am at home again—I do like it so very much […] Oh! Who can ever be tired of Bath?” –Northanger Abbey
Two of Austen’s novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion prominently take place in the small city, and Austen started to write The Watsons there. Yet, Austen kind of hated the place, maybe because it was so different from Hampshire.
Bath is probably one of the more social settings Austen would have found herself in, given her circumstances and social status. And in Northanger and Persuasion, especially, Bath overwhelms both heroines with its mild decadence and busy society.
Austen’s feelings aside, for any Janeite, Bath is a must to explore. It has tons to see from the Roman baths, to which the city gets its name; the upper and lower rooms frequently referenced in Austen’s works; the Pump Room, where characters took the waters for their health; and the Royal Crescent, the popular promenade.
I visited the Jane Austen Centre, and it is a haven for any Janeite to learn about Austen and her time in the city. Walking around and seeing the architecture was what I imagined walking into one of Austen’s novels would be.
Hard on their luck, four women take a cottage home in Devon in Sense and Sensibility. The fictional Barton Cottage is somewhere in Devon, just not near Dawlish on the coast, or so the heroine, Elinor, explains to a confused friend. Personally, I like to think of the cottage somewhere in the moors with lots of hills. It makes the whole down-on-your-luck with money and love that more dramatic.
“Show me the exact spot where Louisa Musgrove fell!” –Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Even Lord Tennyson visited the Lyme Regis with an Austen itinerary, so in following his demand, I suggest a walk along “The Cobb.”
The Cobb is a full wall harbor in the coastal town. Stone steps along the walls lead to the top to walk, and it was on these stairs that Louisa Musgrove had her accident. I had no idea what this structure was when I read about it in Persuasion, so a visit to Lyme shows how serious of an injury she had and exactly how thoughtless she really was. It looks foolish to jump from that high, especially when you’re doing it to show off. Let that be a warning.
So, are there any other Janeites out there as well? Is anyone else hankering for a little Jane Austen trip?
By Georgette Eva