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Inquiring readers: WordPress has changed its editor, and I am still wrestling with the changes, especially on different computers – Mac and Android. You can see it in the changes in spacing and font. I am also experiencing internet connectivity problems. For these reasons, this post is published 4 days later than I intended. When we celebrated Father’s Day in the U.S., I thought of my beloved father and of his dry wit, which influenced my love for Austen and her novels (especially of Mr Bennet’s comments in Pride and Prejudice that reminded me of my father’s droll, but gentle humor). As I pondered the connection, I asked: “How did Jane Austen’s father influence her writing?” Here is my very short analysis.

Jane Austen was born on December 16th in 1775 on a bitter cold day in Steventon, a village in Hampshire. One day after her birth, her father, the village’s pastor, wrote a family member about his 7th child (out of 8) and second daughter:

“You have doubtless been for some time in expectation of hearing from Hampshire, and perhaps wondered a little we were in our old age grown such bad reckoners but so it was, for Cassy* certainly expected to have been brought to bed a month ago: however last night the time came, and without a great deal of warning, everything was soon happily over. We now have another girl, a present plaything for her sister Cassy** and a future companion. She is to be Jenny…” (Lane, 63). (*His wife, Cassandra; **His daughter.)

George Austen

One senses a father’s pride in the tone of this letter, as well as George Austen’s pleasure that Cassy, the only girl among his six children, and almost three years older than *Jenny*, would have a sister as a playmate. 

Reverend George Austen baptized his new daughter on December 17th in his home, as he had done with his other children. While Mrs Austen rested during her lying in, he wrote notes announcing the birth to friends and acquaintances. As far as we know, this was the last time that he called his newborn Jenny.  On April 5th, baby Jane was formally christened in St. Nicholas church. She was named after her godmother; her two aunts – Mrs Cooper and Mrs Leigh Perrot – and her maternal grandmother. 

Despite the high infant mortality rate during this era, the Austens sent their babies to “a good woman at Deane” three months after their births. This custom was commonly practiced at that time.  Cassandra Austen visited her babies daily in the nearby village, until they returned to the family fold at around 18 months of age. The reasons for this custom can be found in the following article on Breast Feeding in the Early 19th Century on this blog. 

A loving father and mother:

George and his wife were equally hard working parents who provided a stable and often joyful childhood for their children, except perhaps for the physically disabled George, who might have suffered from epilepsy. (His condition is more fully discussed in this article by Geri Walton: Jane Austen’s Disabled Brother George Austen. 

Early childhood and an education at home

Once the infants were returned to Steventon Parsonage, the parents took over raising their children. By all accounts, the Austen family was close-knit. After baby Jane’s return to the family fold, her parents’ teachings and examples during her formative years modeled intellectual, creative, and practical activities in a comfortable home and rural setting. 

“She was apparently a tomboy as a child, preferring to play cricket and roll down hills with her brothers than play ‘girls’ games, much like the character of Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey.” (Ivins, p 2.)

Book cover with image of a family with two parents and six childrendancing, with carpet rolled up and one of the girls playing piano.

Mrs Hurst Dancing book cover from Amazon books. The image shows a family of 8 dancing inside a drawing room, with the carpets rolled up.

Many facts exist about the timeline of Rev George Austen’s life, but what was his relationship with his family, and, in the interest of this article, with his famous daughter?  From an early age, George Austen led a hard-scrabble life. He lifted himself up through extraordinary intelligence and industry.  

Young Jane and her sister learned about history, literature, and the classics from their father and brothers. George’s library consisted of 500 volumes, an enormous (and expensive) number for a mere country parson. Shades of Mr Bennet! The library contained both classical books and novels, the latter of which were first frowned upon by academics and traditionalists, but were read with enjoyment by the Austen family. 

“…most of [the sisters’] education was undertaken privately at home, where their father, Reverend George Austen, supplemented his clerical income by taking boy pupils as boarders. It is likely that the Austen sisters benefited from their father’s library and from his informal instruction. We do not know whether or not they also sat in on any of the boys’ classes.” – Sutherland, British Library

Boarding school and “formal” education:

Jane and Cassandra acquired some formal education, although there were no expectations that their education would be as rigorous as their brothers’.

“In 1782 at the age of 7 Jane Austen went to school for the first time. Theories [conjecture] that she wanted to go to school because her elder sister Cassandra was being sent to Mrs Cawley’s school in Oxford to accompany their cousin Jane Cooper who was being sent there.” – Jane Austen Went to School

In 1783, Jane, Cassandra, and their cousin Jane Cooper caught an infectious disease spread by troops returning to Southampton. The three became quite ill. Jane Cooper sent a letter about the situation to her parents, who informed the Austens. Alarmed, Mrs Austen and Mrs Cooper immediately traveled to the school to retrieve their daughters. Mrs Austen nursed Jane back to health, but sadly Mrs Cooper caught the disease and died from it.

In the following three years, Jane and Cassandra continued their education at home. Then, when Jane was ten, the girls set off again to school, one that seemed similar to Jane’s description of Mrs. Goddard’s school in Emma:

“Mrs. Goddard was the mistress of a school — not a seminary, or an establishment, or anything which professed, in long sentences of refined nonsense, to combine liberal acquirements with elegant morality, upon new principles and new systems — and where young ladies for enormous pay might be screwed out of health and into vanity — but a real, honest, old-fashioned boarding school, where a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price, and where girls might be sent to be out of the way, and scramble themselves into a little education, without any danger of coming back prodigies. Mrs. Goddard’s school was in very high repute, and very deservedly; for Highbury was reckoned a particularly healthy spot: she had an ample house and garden, gave the children plenty of wholesome food, let them run about a great deal in the summer, and in winter dressed their chilblains with her own hands.”

The school Jane and Cassandra attended between the spring of 1785 and December of 1786 was the Abbey School in Reading (remarkably still a girl’s school today https://theabbey.co.uk), where the curriculum included writing, spelling, French, history, geography, needlework, drawing, music and dancing – subjects that were considered essential for a girl’s education during the girls’ formative years to prepare them for attracting a husband and running a household. Few roads for women in Austen’s time led to higher education, travel abroad, or a career.

Unlike most of their female contemporaries, Jane’s and Cassandra’s education did not stop when they returned to Steventon. In fact, they were exposed to a wider variety of topics, subjects, and intellectual skills than they would have encountered in boarding schools. In addition:

“[Jane] was not denied “unladylike” material; she mentioned Henry Fielding’s bawdy novel Tom Jones in one of her letters and wrote that the Austen family were “great novel readers and not shamed of being so.” – Sullivan, (p180).

Early writing

Jane wrote her Juvenilia between 12 – 18 years of age as “gifts to her family” (Ivins). She frequently read these short, hilarious pieces of fiction to her siblings, parents, and friends. An early draft of Pride and Prejudice (First Impressions) was a particular favorite of her audience and remained so for years. Importantly, Rev. Austen encouraged her writing. In later years Cassandra recalled Jane reading from Elinor and Marianne (later Sense and Sensibility) before 1796. These carefree times in the Austen family’s social lives were filled with laughter, games, riddles, plays, readings, and intellectual discussions.

“…the relationship of Jane Austen with her own father seems, from what remains of her correspondence, to have been a good one. John Halperin characterizes him as a gentle, scholarly man, a good teacher and an excellent classical scholar. It was he who gave his daughter her literary education, and he who took sufficient interest in her work to offer her first novel to a publisher.” (Gibbs).

Despite their loving relationship, Austen’s six major novels described deeply flawed fathers with a variety of issues: Sir Walter Elliot was a snob and a spendthrift (P); Mr Woodhouse was a fearful hypochondriac whose neediness bound his youngest daughter to their home (E); General Tilney, another snob, was a truly nasty man all around (NA); and Mr Henry Dashwood (SS) left the financial fate of his second wife and daughters to the mercy of his weak-willed son and heir for lack of planning and foresight. 

Sir Thomas Bertram’s fathering skills in Mansfield Park were more nuanced. While he wasn’t a model father, his understanding and insights changed. The growth of his character is one of many reasons why Mansfield Park is considered by many to be Jane’s masterpiece.

I have reserved Mr Bennet (PP), for last. When I was fourteen his character delighted me – his witticisms, his criticisms of his silly wife and three younger equally silly daughters, and his close relationship with Jane and Elizabeth, who I adored, all had my approval. But then I grew up and saw him in a different light.

In my mature years I saw a man whose wit and sarcasm hid an underlying cruelty. He was a husband who made fun of his wife; who favored two daughters above three others; a man who bought extremely expensive books, but who failed to set a portion of that expense aside for future investments for his wife and daughters. I now see a man who retreated from daily reality and, for all his intellectual curiosity, was generally lazy. 

Even after Mr Wickham compromised his daughter, Lydia, and after Mr Darcy did everything in his power to rectify the situation, including providing the shameless couple with a yearly income, Mr Bennet quipped to Elizabeth:

“I admire all my three sons-in-law highly,” said he. “Wickham, perhaps, is my favourite; but I think I shall like your husband quite as well as Jane’s.”

That statement put the nail in the coffin to my youthful admiration of this father. 

George Austen’s support:

George Austen was proud of all his children. He actively supported Jane’s talents as a writer and encouraged her from childhood and on. In a letter to publisher Thomas Cadell, Jr., who was a partner in the firm that had published Fanny Burney’s novels, he proposed to submit her completed manuscript of First Impressions. George’s letter, written in November, 1797, offered “A Manuscript Novel, comprised in three Vols., about the length of Miss Burney’s Evelina.” Cadell, Jr. returned the letter unopened, and so the manuscript languished for 16 years.

Edward’s gift, and the fortuitous consequences of Cadell’s rejection:

George Austen’s sudden death in Bath on 21 January 1805, when Austen was nearly 30, placed his female family in uncertain circumstances. All the brothers, except for George, contributed enough funds towards their mother’s and sisters’ upkeep to relieve some of their financial burdens. Nevertheless, Jane’s creative writing suffered as her female family sought a permanent place to land after George’s death. In 1809, the group found a permanent home in Chawton Cottage, a house that Jane’s brother, Edward Austen Leigh, had refurbished for them.

Black and white pen and ink drawing of the cottage by Ellen Hill

Chawton Cottage by Ellen Hill

The move to Chawton Cottage created a perfect storm of creativity and success for Jane. Thanks to Edward, she returned to the rural countryside she loved, and once again her talent and creativity flourished. First on her to-do list was to rewrite Sense and Sensibility. A publisher had not rejected this manuscript and she sensed its commercial value. After its modest success, she turned to her other novel, First Impressions, the family favorite which had languished unpublished. We have no way of knowing how often Jane revised this beloved story, which, like Sense and Sensibility, started out as an epistolary novel. What we do know is that the finished product, renamed Pride and Prejudice (published in 1813), was well received. The book retains its literacy rock star status to this day.

I have no doubt that George Austen’s unshakable faith in Jenny’s brilliance as an author contributed to her success. His gift was his consistent confidence and encouragement in nourishing her spectacular talent. Well done, George!

______

Articles from this blog:

Online Articles

Gibbs, C. (1986) Absent Fathers: An Examination of Father-Daughter Relationships in Jane Austen’s Novels (Persuasions #8. JASNA. PDF Downloaded 6/26/21: http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/printed/number8/gibbs.pdf

Sutherland, K. (2014) Female education, reading and Jane Austen, British Library. URL Downloaded 6/26/21: https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/female-education-reading-and-jane-austen

Books

Grey, J.D. (1986) The Jane Austen Companion (with A Dictionary of Jane Austen’s Life and Works by H. Abigail Bok (U.S.). Macmillan Publishing Company.

Lane, M. (1997) Jane Austen’s Family: Through Five Generations (Paperback reprint (U.K.) St. Edmundsbury Press, Ltd.

Hannon, P. (2007) 101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen: The Truth About the World’s Most Intriguing Literary Heroine (U.S.). Fall River Press.

Ivins, H. (2010) The Jane Austen Pocketbook Bible (1st ed. U.K.). Crimson Publishing.

Mingay, G & Sperling, D. (1981) Mrs Hurst Dancing And Other Scenes from Regency Life 1812-1823 (U.K.). Victor Gollancz Ltd.

Sullivan, M.C. (2007) The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England (U.S.). Quirk Books.

https://www.amazon.com/Hurst-Dancing-Scenes-Regency-1812-1823/dp/0312551290

 

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“Ah! there is nothing like staying at home, for real comfort.” This line from Mrs. Elton in Emma is quite humorous, but the quote itself holds an eternal truth for most of us. There really is no place like one’s own home.

For Jane Austen, “home” was in Hampshire, a lush, green county in the south of England. She seems to have been happiest there, and it’s no wonder. When I visited there in June, it was as lovely as ever. The narrow country roads wind slowly through gentle hills and are lined with tall trees and thick bushes. Large, green fields stretch out for miles beyond. Here and there, there are houses set far back from the road. The storybook villages that pop up every few miles are complete with thatched roofs, wood and brick buildings, and picket fences around the gardens.

The air is still and quiet there. But for the cars that pass by every so often, it’s like stepping back in time.

STEVENTON

Austen’s home for the first 25 years of her life was at the Rectory in Steventon, and it surely brought comfort to her in many ways. She grew up there, was educated there, and spent many happy years with her family there.

Image 1 Rectory Site (1)

Rectory site today. Image Rachel Dodge

The lanes become more and more narrow as you near Steventon. Queen Anne’s Lace grows in profusion and the undergrowth presses close to the road. Trees grow up over the roads to form deep green tunnels of dappled light. Though the Rectory was torn down long ago, one can see the place where it once stood. Today, it is a large green field dotted with white sheep.

Image 2 Steventon Walk to Church

Road to St. Nicholas Church, Steventon. Photo Rachel Dodge.

Driving further up the lane to St. Nicholas Church, where her father Reverend George Austen was the rector, one enters a tunnel of trees that stretches around a bend and out of sight. It’s not hard to imagine Jane and Cassandra walking that beautiful lane on a fair Sunday morning to attend services at the church.

Image 3 Exterior Steventon Church

Exterior of St. Nicholas Church, Steventon. Image Rachel Dodge

The church itself is still in use today and looks the same as it would have in Jane’s time, making it quite unique. It is a small, simple church, built around 1200 by the Normans. In the heat of summer, its thick stone walls provide a cool, quiet place to sit and look, ponder, or pray. People from the neighborhood are known to stop by to visit and pray.

Image 4 Interior Steventon Church (1)

Interior, St. Nicholas Church, Steventon. Photo Rachel Dodge

Highlight: When we were there, one of the locals showed us how to open the door, which is kept unlocked for any who wish to visit and rest. The church is a place of stillness and beauty with its soft, rose colored-light from the mosaics and stained-glass windows.

Image 5 Wheatsheaf

Wheatsheaf Hotel, Basingstoke. Image Rachel Dodge

Up the road three miles is the Wheatsheaf Hotel in Basingstoke (known as the Wheatsheaf Inn during Austen’s life), where Austen walked to post letters and collect the family mail. Though it has since been expanded and updated, and now houses a lovely hotel and pub, the original building is still visible.

CHAWTON

The Austen family left Hampshire in 1801 when her father retired from his position as rector, and by all accounts, Jane Austen did not find that same home-comfort she had known at Steventon until she came back to Hampshire again years later. In 1809, several years after her father’s death, she moved with her mother and Cassandra into “the cottage” at her brother Edward’s estate in Chawton, Hampshire. Though Austen traveled frequently to visit family and friends during her adult years, Chawton Cottage and its surrounding areas once again became her true home.

Image 6 Jane's House Sign

Chawton Cottage, Jane Austen’s house sign. Image Rachel Dodge

Jane Austen’s House Museum, or Chawton Cottage, is where Jane lived until she moved to Winchester to seek medical attention toward the end of her life. The lanes, the village, the church, and the areas surrounding Chawton became the happy backdrop for the most prolific period of writing in Austen’s life.

Image 7 Jane's House Front

Front of Chawton Cottage. Image Rachel Dodge

Jane Austen’s House is open for tours daily and is surrounded by beautiful flower gardens. Baskets of books by Austen sit on benches in the shade for any guest who wants to sit and read. In the kitchen, there is a station set up for making lavender sachets and another where visitors can practice writing with a quill. There are also straw bonnets and dresses for guests to borrow if they wish to enjoy a more authentic experience!

Image 8 Roses Entrance

Entrance to Chawton Cottage with rose bower. Image Rachel Dodge

Inside the home, there are many items that are original heirlooms belonging to the family or are similar to what Jane would have known. I sat and played the piano (left image), which they allow visitors to do if they are pianists. In the dining room, one can see the Knight family’s Wedgwood dinner service, the tea things Jane would have used to make tea, and Jane’s writing desk (right image). Upstairs, guests can view the bedrooms and read more about the history of the family.

Image 9 Piano

Piano, Chawton Cottage. Image Rachel Dodge

Image 10 desk

Jane Austen’s writing desk. Image Rachel Dodge.

Highlight: At Jane Austen’s House, I met and spoke with a descendant of Austen’s, Jeremy Knight. He grew up at Chawton House (or the “Great House”), as did his daughter Caroline. When I visited, he was standing in the bedroom of Chawton Cottage, where Jane and Cassandra once shared a room, happily sharing Jane Austen’s history with visitors. What a treat! For further information about Chawton Cottage, you can read more here: https://www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk/

Image 11 Bed

Bed inside the room that Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra, shared. Image Rachel Dodge.

St. Nicholas Church, Chawton is larger and more grand than the church at Steventon. Though it does not look as it did in Austen’s day, one can see the evidence of years of history inside and out. Like the church at Steventon, the church at Chawton is still a working parish church today.

Image 12 Chawton Church Exterior

Exterior, St. Nicholas, Chawton. Image Rachel Dodge

Image 13 Chawton Church Int

Interior, St. Nicholas Church, Chawton. Image Rachel Dodge

Highlight: If you walk around the back of the church, you can see the graves of Jane Austen’s mother and sister there. (Austen’s grave and memorial are found at Winchester Cathedral in Winchester.) Both women lived long, full lives, unlike our dear Jane.

Image 14 Graves at Chawton

Gravestones of Jane Austen’s mother and sister. Image Rachel Dodge

Chawton House and its gardens are open for public tours today. The Elizabethan era house, originally owned by Jane’s brother Edward Austen Knight, is now a library and study center devoted to women writers. There is also a tea shop inside the house.

Image 15 Chawton Great House Ext

Chawton House interior. Image Rachel Dodge

Image 16 Chawton House Int

Chawton House interior. Image Rachel Dodge

Highlight: Caroline Jane Knight, daughter of Jeremy Knight and 5th great-niece to Jane, released a book in June called Jane & Me: My Austen Heritage. It tells her personal story of growing up at Chawton House, the family’s Christmas traditions, baking with her Granny, and helping in the tea room. She is the last Austen descendent to have grown up in the house (before it was sold and later became the Chawton House Library).

Caroline has also formed the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, a non-profit organization devoted to helping support literacy in communities in need worldwide. https://janeaustenlf.org/

For more on the history of Chawton House, you can read more here: https://chawtonhouse.org/about-us/our-story/

CELEBRATING 200 YEARS

In honor of the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death later this month, there are many special events all around Hampshire this summer and throughout the year. The people there are proud of their Austen heritage.

As part of the 200th year celebration, Jane Austen’s House Museum has a special exhibit called “41 Objects.” The number 41 marks the number of years that Jane graced this earth, and the objects can be found in and around the museum. Read here for more: https://www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk/41-objects

Image 17 41 Objects Plaque

Chawton Cottage plaque. Image Rachel Dodge

 

Image 18 41 Objects Wedgwood

Wedgwood china, Chawton. Image Rachel Dodge

One highlight for those visiting Hampshire during the “Jane Austen 200: A Life in Hampshire” celebration is the “Sitting with Jane” park benches. These “Book Benches” are scattered throughout the Hampshire area and are part of a public book trail. Each of the 24 benches focuses on a Jane Austen theme as interpreted by a professional artist. Fans can take photos sitting on the benches and post them to Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #SittingWithJane. Visit http://www.sittingwithjane.com/ or search @SittingWithJane on Twitter to see the benches or learn more.

 

Image 19 Steventon Bench

Sitting with Jane bench. Image Rachel Dodge

Image 20 Chawton Bench

Sitting with Jane bench. Image Rachel Dodge

For a full list of the events and exhibits scheduled for this year, you can read more here: http://janeausten200.co.uk/

If you have the chance to travel to England, visiting Jane’s beautiful Hampshire countryside is a must. Hampshire has all of the charm and beauty of modern British culture alongside a long, rich, and vibrant history of the past.

Other posts about Steventon, Chawton Cottage, and Chawton on this blog – Click here to see posts.

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Ring in a boxInquiring readers, dear friend Tony Grant (London Calling) has written an article to help jump start my re-entry into blogging. I love this post, for I am a huge Kelly Clarkson fan, and I was happily astounded to learn that she was a Janeite. Who knew that the simple girl from Texas with the huge voice would make it so big in the music industry that one day she would outbid a host of collectors for Jane Austen’s cabochon blue stone ring? Since her winning bid, the ring has lived in limbo, as Tony’s tale will recount, but now it is safely in British hands again, thanks to a committed group of people.

Kelly’s other association with Jane Austen is peripheral. She sang a song for the hit movie, Love Actually, in which a number of actors who starred in Jane Austen films appeared: Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley, Hugh Grant, and Alan Rickman. I have placed the YouTube video at the bottom of this post. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy Tony’s tale.

It is possible that you might have heard about a certain ring that hit the headlines worldwide recently.

American singer Kelly Clarkson, a 31 year old singer from Fort Worth Texas, bought a small gold ring with a smooth turquoise stone set in it at Sotheby’s Auction for around £150, 000. The news hit the headlines because this ring had been the property of Jane Austen. British government officials, the Jane Austen Society and readers of Jane Austen across the known world were aghast.

Kelly Clarkson

A number of issues came to the fore. First, a ring, which is of British national importance, because of its provenance, was about to be taken out of Britain; secondly it was going to a pop star, who although she professed her love of Jane Austen, was really just buying it, because she could. A holding order was placed on the ring by the British Government preventing it leaving the country. A few months were given for a British buyer to raise the funds to purchase it back from Miss Clarkson.

Chawton Cottage houses the Jane Austen House Museum.

Chawton Cottage houses the Jane Austen House Museum.

Chawton Cottage , the home of Jane Austen for the last eight years of her life, came forward to raise the necessary money. An anonymous benefactor provided most of the funds required within a short space of time and petitions and activity,  amongst American, Australian and British Janeites secured the rest. Susannah Fullerton took the lead in Australia and Maggie Sullivan sent out a rallying call in America and Chawton House made clear their aim over here. Janeites from around the world contributed money on the site set up by Chawton Cottage and Kelly Clarkson graciously sold it to Chawton Cottage. The ring will now have associations to Jane Austen, as well as to Miss Clarkson. The whole of the Jane Austen community will feel that they have a part of it because of their contributions. It will truly become a ring owned and loved by all. It has now gained another dramatic layer of history and meaning.

The ring will be on display at Chawton Cottage alongside other pieces of Jewellery, the topaz crosses brought back from a voyage by the Austen’s younger brother, Charles and also a beaded bracelet, also owned by Jane, for all visitors to see.

The Arts Council’s reviewing committee secretary states,

The expert adviser had provided a written submission stating that the gold ring (width 17.5 mm; height 8 mm) set with a turquoise was probably made in the eighteenth century, possibly about 1760-80. In excellent condition, the ring sat in a later nineteenth-century case bearing the name of T. West, Goldsmith of Ludgate Street, London and was accompanied by papers documenting the history of the ring within the family of Jane Austen.”

The gold circle of the ring is 9 carat gold which is rather low in pure gold content and so denotes the ring as being an ordinary piece. The highest carat possible is 23 carat, which is almost 100% gold. It has been assessed because of its design and construction as being made between 1760 and 1780. The ends of the hoop of the ring curve round underneath the bezel. Taken with the thin hoop and simple oval bezel this suggest its date. Jane was born in 1775 so it is evident that the ring was not made for her originally. The provenance of the ring is based solely on letters and documents within the Austen family and only go back to Jane‘s ownership. After her death it went to Cassandra and then passed down through the family. Could it possibly have got to Jane in the same way? A relative dying and passing it on to Jane as a keepsake. It is something that Jane obviously wanted to keep. It’s simplicity and effectiveness would have appealed to her. On her finger it would have had a lustre under candlelight. It would have been something that other people would have noticed at any gathering such as a ball or family event such as Christmas.

Janes ring

Gold itself was not an easy commodity to come by between 1760 and 1780. The American war of Independence which waged between 1775 and 1783 made Gold a rare commodity. It was a vital constituent of the wealth of the nation. Britain had to pay for the War. Much gold came to Britain from Brazil in the 18th century, but because of the European war against France and the War against the colonies in North America getting gold here from South America was not an easy business. Transport ships could be captured or sunk. It pushed the price of gold up. Even 9 carat gold must have been expensive and hard to come by at the time. There were some gold mines in Britain  , at Dollgethlau in Wales, in the low border hills of Scotland and in Cornwall at the Treore mine near Wadebridge, the Carlson veins at Hopes Nose Mine and within the copper veins of Bampfylde, North Molton. The Romans first discovered gold in Wales so there is a long history of gold mining in Britain. It would be good to imagine that the gold in Jane’s ring came from one of the mines in Cornwall. She loved the West Country and had family holidays in Lyme, Sidmouth and Colyton.

There is a turquoise gem set in the ring. Turquoise is meant to be a bringer of good luck. It has been found in the tombs and on the artifacts of many Egyptian Pharaohs and important people. It can change colour under certain circumstances. Turquoise is found all over the world. It is associated with copper mining and indeed Cornwall, where copper has been mined it is also associated with turquoise. Because of the geopolitical state of the world in the 1770’s onward, Cornwall, like the gold in Jane’s ring, is the most likely source of the turquoise. It has also been suggested that the turquoise stone in Jane’s ring might be a special variant called Ondontolite. Ondontolite is also called bone or fossil turquoise. It is a gem formed by the infiltration of surrounding minerals into fossil bones. This would fit with the turquoise stone in Jane’s ring because, Dorset and the West Country have rich fossil deposits.

Jane’s ring is therefore connected to wars, national financial need, geology, the mining industry and mining communities and the lives of their inhabitants, which were being developed exponentially with the coming of the Industrial Revolution, social status, personal attractiveness, social occasions and mystical meaning. A designer designed it and a craftsman made it and a shopkeeper sold it. It is one symbol of economic and social endeavour within an historical context.

In the novels rings and jewellery have their importance and meaning. In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia describes how her carriage overtakes the curricle of William Goulding and she lowers the window and lets her ring be seen. Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey looks forward to the day that friends and neighbours will envy her her, “exhibition of hoop rings on her fingers.” These two examples are of characters who show vanity and self-importance but in Mansfield Park, Fanny Price, who receives the present of a small cross from her brother William, is at pains to find just the right simple chain to wear it with and show off her brothers generosity. William cannot afford the chain to go with the cross and Edmund eventually comes to Fanny’s rescue with just the right sort of simple chain for her to wear. The jewellery in the novels  seem to portray elements of character. They show Jane Austen’s understanding of the use of jewellery. This adds to the importance of the turquoise ring that Chawton Cottage have managed to now acquire.

In the Arts Council assessment of the ring, in the part where they describe the provenance of the ring, they describe documentary evidence for it belonging to Jane and various members of her family through the generations.  The report sets out the ownership of the ring after Jane’s death. The other point to be made is the report in the news that the ring is, ” a never seen before ring owned by the novelist Jane Austen.”

The family for generations have kept the ring  to themselves. Jane is one of the most pored over, read about and speculated upon authors in history. The family appeared to want to keep something of her just to themselves, their own private bit of her.

Letter to the next recipient of the ring.

Letter to the next recipient of the ring.

One member of the family in each generation was given guardianship over the ring. So what was special about the keepers of the ring? After Jane’s death Cassandra owned it. She passed it on to her sister in law Eleanor Austen, the second wife of Henry Austen, “as soon as she knew I was engaged to your uncle.” Henry had been Jane’s favourite brother and it was he, whilst a banker living in London, who had arranged for her novels to be published. Eleanor passed it on to Caroline Mary Craven Austen, the daughter of Jane’s brother James. Caroline Austen passed it on to her niece Mary Austen Leigh who passed it on in turn to her niece Mary Dorothy Austen Leigh. Mary Dorothy Austen Leigh then passed it on to her sister Winifred Jenkyns in 1962. Apart from the obvious observation that the ring passed along the female line what else can we deduce? The ring was adapted for the use of somebody with a smaller finger than the original owner. A bar of gold, called a stretcher, has been fitted at a later date, probably by the company T West Goldsmiths of Ludgate Hill which is named on the inside of the box holding the ring. It seems that the ring was worn and not just kept as a memento. This might suggest things about the owner in each generation. A memorial ring, which this is, especially after Jane’s death and passed on through the family, commemorates Jane through generations. The wearer and owner could almost be seen as a surrogate Jane to the family in each generation. It is unlike a memento, such as a piece of furniture or a vase, which is set at a distance from people to be viewed. This ring has a different connection. It was worn on occasions. One wonders what occasions the Austen ancestor in each generation would wear it? When you wear an item belonging to somebody you take on aspects of that person. It’s not just the touching of the object which makes a connection with that person and the past but it is also the using it as they would have used it. They almost, in a way, become that person. A little like an actor wearing a costume,however in a case like this, wearing Jane’s ring would have been much more personal and evocative than merely playing a part.

Durer's image of a rhino

Durer’s image of a rhino

Neil MacGregor, the director of The British Museum, wrote and published “A History of The World in 1000 Objects,” in 2010 and broadcast his readings of the book on BBC radio 4. In his description of the first of his 100 objects, the Mummy of Hornedjitef (circa 240BC), an object taken out of chronological order in MacGregors 100 objects, he uses it as an illustration of how knowledge develops. The interpretation of the mummy has changed as more research has been possible. The Mummy is a vivid example of the work of the academic. Neil MacGregor states that the work of an Archaeologist or Historian is to gather the evidence and make the best of the evidence they can. This changes over time as more evidence emerges but the archaeologist can only do his best with what he has. MacGregor gives Durers portrait of a rhinoceros, drawn in 1515, as an example. Durer had never seen a rhinoceros. He drew his portrait from first hand witness accounts. He did his best with what evidence he had. The drawing is completely wrong. I have used the evidence I have got for Jane’s ring and gathered other evidence to answer questions as they occurred, from various sources but I, like Durer, don’t really know.
Clarkson, had almost the last word. This was her reaction to Chawton Cottage buying the ring from her,

“The ring is a beautiful national treasure and I am happy to know that so many Jane Austen fans will get to see it at Jane Austen’s House Museum.”

Chawton actually had the last word. They hoped for a long and fruitful relationship with Kelly and hoped she would visit the ring at the cottage.

Kelly Clarkson wears a facsimile of Jane Austen's ring at a concert.

Kelly Clarkson wears a facsimile of Jane Austen’s ring at a concert. Image @Mirror News

Everybody appears to be friends!!!

Here’s Kelly’s song in Love Actually, The Trouble With Love Is, with scenes from the film

Mirror News: Kelly Clarkson Jane Austen ring row

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Tony Grant’s recent pictorial visit to Chawton was so popular that I thought you would like to see the village in which Jane Austen lived out the last years of her life. You might want to reference Tony’s images with the ones below, which were taken with Google maps. After I made these, I felt as if I had traveled to Hampshire for a pleasant hour or so. Interestingly, the seasons go back and forth, from late summer to early November.  At times you will see full foliage and at other times the scene was shot in the middle of fall.

Winchester Road to Chawton

Winchester Road to Chawton from A31. You can see the signpost marking the village.

Chawton sits in Hampshire, not far from Alton, Steventon, and Winchester, all familiar Jane Austen places.

Chawton sits in Hampshire, not far from Alton, Steventon, and Winchester, all familiar Jane Austen places.

Lovely narrow lanes

Lovely narrow lanes. Click on the images for a larger version.

Approaching Chawton Cottage on the left and Cassandra's Cup Tea Room, the white building in the distance

Approaching Chawton Cottage behind the tree on the left and Cassandra’s Cup Tea Room, the cream colored building in the middle distance. If you turned right, you would be going to Chawton House, Edward Austen Knight’s residence. But we will be turning left.

Chawton Cottage coming into full view, along with the cross roads sign

Chawton Cottage coming into full view on the left, along with the cross roads sign. Check Tony Grant’s images in the previous post for more details.

This is a slightly different angle of the scene, as if we were arriving from Chawton House.

This is a slightly different angle of the scene, as if we were arriving from Chawton House.

A view of the cottage and garden from Cassandra's Cup tea house.

A view of the cottage and garden from Cassandra’s Cup tea house.

The next few scenes show Chawton Cottage from many angles.

The next few scenes show Chawton Cottage from many angles. This one gives a view into the street and down the village. You can see how close the dining parlor window is to the street and sidewalk (to the right of the door.) This is where Jane Austen wrote and revised her novels.

The following text comes from the 1901 travel book, Hampshire, With the Isle of Wight by George Albemarle Bertie Dewar, John Vaughan. Their description of Jane Austen shows how successfully her family had whitewashed her image as a sweet spinster in whose life not much had happened. I thought you might enjoy reading it as you viewed the rest of my virtual trip through Chawton.

The cottage up close

The cottage up close, with bricked up window on the east side of the drawing room and plaques in honor of Jane Austen. Tourists exit from the garden to the left of the house.

A mile south of Alton is Chawton village. Jane Austen, the writer of the pure sweet stories which at the present time are loved better even than they were when Scott and Macaulay and Lewis sounded their praises, lived with her family at Chawton from 1809 to 1817.”

Few photos capture this angle of the cottage, which has always made me curious.

Few photos capture this angle of the cottage, which has always made me curious. The visitor’s entrance is to the right, through the gate, towards the outbuildings. The gift shop is housed in the brick building to your immediate right.

The house is still standing. Part of it has been made into a workman’s club, whilst the remainder is occupied by three families of working people, but it has been altered a good deal since her time. In the church there is a tablet to the memory of some members of the Austen family, Cassandra Elizabeth and her brothers. Jane Austen was quite a Hampshire woman.”

A view of the gardens.

A view of the gardens and a clear view of the yew trees.

She was born at Steventon near Oakley in December 1775, and lived there till twenty-five years old. I went to see Steventon one day in the summer of 1899, and found it the sleepiest little spot one could imagine. The country is green and leafy, but the scenery is without distinction: there are no hills to speak of, no beautiful troutstreams, no fine old houses, no stately parks. The old parsonage where Jane Austen was born has gone, and there are no remains whatever of her or her family at Steventon.”

Continuing through the village and away from the cottage.

Continuing through the village and away from the cottage, still on Winchester Road. One can imagine the coaches and wagons rattling by the window near Jane’s writing desk.

The spired church in which her father held service stands a little distance from the village at the edge of a hazel and oak coppice. It was in this quiet nook, seven or eight miles from the nearest town, that Jane Austen at twentyone years of age began to write that perfect story “Pride and Prejudice.” In 1797 she was at work on “Sense and Sensibility,” and in 1798 completed “Northanger Abbey.”

You can imagine Jane and Cassandra walking a mile through the village to get to Alton, where they could shop.

Jane and Cassandra walked a mile north through the village to get to Alton, where they could shop.

Where in the world did she get her knowledge of human nature—a knowledge so great that Macaulay was almost ready to extol her as the Shakespeare of her sex? What life could she have seen about Steventon a hundred years ago? In 1801 Jane went to Bath, and in 1805 to Southampton, where the family had rooms in Castle Street: in 1807, as we have seen, the Austens settled at Chawton, and four years after the story “Sense and Sensibility” was published, being followed by “Pride and Prejudice” and “Mansfield Park.”

Looking back, you can see a different approach to Chawton Cottage. In this scene, it would be towards your right.

Looking back, you can see a different approach to Chawton Cottage. In this scene, it would be towards your right around the bend.

In 1817 her health broke down and she removed to rooms in College Street, Winchester, and died there the same year. The memorials of Jane Austen are but few, and it is clear that her life was uneventful. It has been said that the woman without a history is the happier. The life of Jane Austen, like her death, was placid; there is here no record of harrowing anguish, or anxiety, such as we find in the story of that strong sufferer Mrs. Oliphant. Nor in the scant materials which have been left for a “life,” could the biographer find anything in the nature of a sad love-affair.”

No wonder Jane Austen was inspired to write in this pretty and quaint setting, so quintessentially British. Hope you enjoyed your short trip.

No wonder Jane Austen was inspired to write in this pretty and quaint setting, so quintessentially British. Up ahead and to the right is Wolff’s Lane. This concludes my short trip through Chawton.

Serenity is the word that best describes her career: and in this Jane Austen may remind one of Gilbert White, who was spending his happy days at Selborne when at Steventon, only about fifteen miles off as the crow flies, she was doing her French exercises and getting her first insight into the little world around her. She has given us a small but very choice portrait gallery of masterpieces. The irresistible Elizabeth, as easy to fall in love with as Scott’s Di Vernon, the alluring if sometimes rather irritating Emma, the worldly but very human Constance—they live and move to-day. You should read Jane Austen after one of the unwholesome, much-boomed, ephemeral novels of to-day, as Dean Stanley read his “Guy Mannering” to take the nasty taste out of his mouth. Jane Austen was buried in Winchester Cathedral, where she is to have at length a worthy memorial.”

Sattelite view of Chawton Cottage with its walled in garden and outbuildings. Click here to see the image of the village from satellite.

Sattelite view of Chawton Cottage with its walled in garden and outbuildings. Click here to see the image of the village from satellite. On the left you can see a narrow footpath between the hedges.

Oh, those Victorians and their simplistic view of Jane Austen. Hope you enjoyed the 112 year old description of Jane’s life as well. In the image below you can see the short trip, which started on the Winchester Road (which started on the left, below A31), then turned left at Jane Austen’s house, and ended at Wolff’s Lane, which turns right and parallels with A31 at the top of the image. Alton would have been a mile up the street and NW of the cottage. Chawton House would have been too much of a walk for Mrs. Austen. I imagine that Edward must have sent his carriage to his mother and sisters when they came to visit.

A Walk Map

View a contemporary watercolor of the village in this article by Joan Austen-Leigh, Chawton Cottage Transfigured

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Inquiring Readers, Tony Grant visited Chawton on his way to Southampton on a gorgeous day in early March and sent on these photos. Below his recent images, I added a few that he took several years ago of the cottage’s interior. Enjoy.

We are all familiar with this corner view of the cottage, which faces the road. Jane could hear the carriages rattle by.

We are all familiar with this corner view of the cottage, which faces the road. Jane could hear the carriages rattle by. Image @Tony Grant

In this image one can readily see the window that Jane's brother, Edward, had installed in the drawing room. It overlooks the walled in garden.

In this image one can readily see the window that Jane’s brother, Edward, had installed in the drawing room. It overlooks the walled in garden. Image @Tony Grant

In this image, you can see the window in the drawing room that Edward had blocked up (right), which faced the road, and the fancier window facing the garden.

In this image, you can see the window in the drawing room that Edward had blocked up (right), which faced the road and afforded little privacy, and the fancier window facing the garden. Image @Tony Grant

Life in the village didn’t offer much in the way of variety. Edward’s windows created a lively scenario, in which a curious Mrs. Austen, upon hearing a commotion (or carriage), would rush from the drawing room to the dining room to watch the goings on.

View from the garden.

View from the garden. One sees how close the village houses are opposite the cottage. Image @Tony Grant

View of the garden

View of the garden. What a lovely spot to sit and reread one’s writing, or plot one’s novel. Image @Tony Grant

All Janeite roads lead to Chawton Cottage

All Janeite roads lead to Chawton Cottage. Image @Tony Grant

One is impressed with the coziness of this village and how easy it must have been for Jane and Cassandra to get around on foot.

Cassandra's Tea Room, a modern establishment that is popular with visitors.

Cassandra’s Tea Room, across Chawton Cottage, a modern establishment that is popular with visitors. Image @Tony Grant

Cassandra's Cup tea rooms. Image@Tony Grant

Cassandra’s Cup tea rooms. Image@Tony Grant

During Tony’s previous visits, he took photographs of the garden in summer and the village and other cottages.

Standard roses. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Standard roses. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Chawton dog rose. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Chawton dog rose.  Image@Tony Grant

Jane described the syringa in the garden. Image@Tony Grant

Jane described the syringa in the garden. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Tony (l) and his friend Clive sit under the fir tree. Image@Tony Grant

Tony (l) and his friend Clive sit under the fir tree. Image@Tony Grant

Cottages and gardens in the village. Image@Tony Grant

Cottages and gardens in the village. Image@Tony Grant

Fireplace in Jane's and Cassandra's shared bedroom. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Fireplace in Jane’s and Cassandra’s shared bedroom. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The bed with the diamond  pane quilt that Jane helped to sew. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The bed with the diamond pane quilt that Jane helped to sew. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The dining parlour, which looks out on the street and where Jane wrote her novels. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The dining parlour, which looks out on the street and where Jane wrote her novels. The china ware, which once belonged to Edward, has since been auctioned off. You can just glimpse her writing table with pen at the far right. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The stairs outside Jane's room. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The stairs outside Jane’s room. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The courtyard. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

The courtyard. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Out buildings in winter. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

Out buildings in winter. Chawton Cottage Image@Tony Grant

This image was taken by Keith Mallet and sent to me in 2009. It is a view of the outbuildings from Jane’s bedroom window.

View from Jane's window. Image @Keith Mallet

View from Jane’s window. Image @Keith Mallet

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