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Inquiring readers: The lists in this blog post describe us (Vic, Rachel, Brenda, and Tony) and our interests to a tee. If we were to remove our names heralding our choices, you could probably guess who chose which list. The books mentioned are those that we read in 2020 and that have influenced our interests, thoughts, and research. Enjoy! Feel free to leave your own book suggestions in the comment section!

Vic Sanborn

1. Trailblazing Women of the Georgian Era: The Eighteenth-Century Struggle for Female Success in a Man’s World, Mike Rendell, Pen & Sword History, Pen & Sword Books LTD, 2018.

This useful reference details the contributions of 18th century women (despite their lack of legal standing) in the arts, literature, sciences, business, commerce, reform, and education. Some women, like Frances Burney and Mary Wollstonecraft, are well known to us today. How many of us know about Mary Darly, Jane Marcet, Elizabeth Fry, or Ann Damer? This is a beautiful book well worth owning.

2. What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved, John Mullan. 2003, Bloomsbury Press

John Mullan’s book was highly recommended to me. In it he discusses diverse topics in 20 chapters, such as: “How Much Does Age Matter?,” “Which Important Characters Never Speak in the Novels?,” “How Do Jane Austen’s Characters Look?,” “When Does Jane Austen Speak Directly to the Reader?,” and more. Mr. Mullan’s analysis prompts me to reread crucial passages in Austen’s novels; he helps me understand how much I still need to explore in her novels after all these years.

3. Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice, Paula Byrne, 2014, Harper Perennial.

I decided to purchase this book after watching “Bridgerton.” I did not see “Belle,” the movie, but have read short descriptions of the remarkable life of this illegitimate daughter of a captain in the Royal Navy and an enslaved African American woman.

4. The Housekeeping Book of Susanna Whatman: 1776-1800, National Trust, a primary source.

This extremely short book (62 pages) was not noticed until it was printed in 1952. Whatman’s observations on household management was for personal use only. It provides a snapshot of how an 18th century housewife managed a household, and describes her expectations and relationship with her servants. This primary source is extremely useful for anyone interested in the servant/mistress relationship during that time.

5. Hamnet, kindle edition, by Maggie O’Farrell, Deckle Edge, July 2020, mentioned as one of the 10 best books of 2020. Winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

This is my only entry that was recently published. My Janeite friend, Deb Barnum, could not praise the book enough and urged me to read it. O’Farrell’s tale about the death of William Shakespeare’s son is told in prose so beautiful, lyrical, poignant and magical that one enters another world entirely. The tale is sad, for Hamnet died of the plague, but the topic speaks to the grief that so many families in this world are feeling as they mourn lost ones due to the pandemic.

Brenda Cox

1. Jane Austen and Religion, by William Jarvis. ISBN: 095271261X

This fascinating little book gives more insight into the role of religion in Austen’s life and novels. Quite easy to read, unlike some of the other books on this topic.

2. Paupers & Pig Killers: The Diary of William Holland, A Somerset Parson, 1799-1818, edited by Jack Ayres. ISBN-10 : 0750932015

These selections from a parson’s diary give you an idea of what the daily lives of Austen’s family might have been like (since her father and two of her brothers were country parsons).

3. Untold Histories: Black People in England and Wales during the period of the British Slave Trade, c. 1660-1807, by Kathleen Chater. 2011. ISBN-10 : 0719085977

If you’d like to know about black people in Jane Austen’s England and their lives, this book is based on extensive research from primary sources. See the History tab above, the section Black History, for more resources.

4. The Woman of Colour, anonymous, edited by Lyndon Dominique. ISBN-10 : 0719085977

This novel of 1808, possibly written by a woman of color, gives you a more personal view of the situation for black people in Austen’s England. It includes contemporary accounts from the slave-holding colonies.

5. Jane Austen & Crime, by Susannah Fullerton. ISBN-10 : 0976353954

This novel is full of great insights into law and crime in Austen’s England and in her life and her novels.

6. Unmarriageable, by Soniah Kamal. ISBN-10 : 0525486488

This book is a parallel retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in Pakistan. Lots of fun. See my review.

Rachel Dodge

1. Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis by Patti Callahan. ISBN-10: 0785224505

“In this masterful exploration of one of the greatest love stories of modern times, we meet a brilliant writer, a fiercely independent mother, and a passionate woman who changed the life of this respected author and inspired books that still enchant us and change us. Joy lived at a time when women weren’t meant to have a voice—and yet her love for Jack gave them both voices they didn’t know they had.”

This book is perfect for fans of C.S. Lewis who want to know more about his wife, Joy Davidman. This novelized version of Joy’s life is hard to put down! I loved getting to know more about the brilliant mind and life of the woman Lewis called “my whole world.”

2. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo: ISBN-10 : 1846140498

This novel is one of my best memories of 2020 and one of my greatest achievements as a reader. I read this with an online read-along group for six months and fell in love with the novel and with Hugo’s writing. I could have never finished it without the group to help me stay on track. We had weekly online discussions that were incredibly invigorating. I highly recommend Les Mis to anyone who hasn’t read it — but if you can, read it with a buddy or a group. There’s nothing like it!

3. Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller: ISBN-10 : 006268535X

“In this novel authorized by the Little House Heritage Trust, Sarah Miller vividly recreates the beauty, hardship, and joys of the frontier in a dazzling work of historical fiction, a captivating story that illuminates one courageous, resilient, and loving pioneer woman as never before—Caroline Ingalls, “Ma” in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved Little House books.”

This book gives a detailed view of the Little House books as told from Caroline “Ma” Ingalls’ perspective. It is meticulously researched and written, and I was mesmerized by the story of this incredibly strong woman. I have always wondered about the “real Ma” and how she handled even the worst situations with such grit and grace.

4. The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery:mISBN-10 : 1402289367

“Valancy Stirling is 29 and has never been in love. She’s spent her entire life on a quiet little street in an ugly little house and never dared to contradict her domineering mother and her unforgiving aunt. But one day she receives a shocking, life-altering letter―and decides then and there that everything needs to change. For the first time in her life, she does exactly what she wants to and says exactly what she feels.”

I’m including this on my list because it’s one of L.M. Montgomery’s best books–and many people have never read it. It is one of only two books Montgomery wrote for an adult audience, and I’ve yet to meet anyone who didn’t enjoy it. If you need a fun, quick, and invigorating read, this is a great one to pick up. You will love Valancy and Barney.

Tony Grant

1. A Portrait of the Artist by James Joyce. Published by the Penguin Group 1992 (First published 1914-15.)

Published in 1916, the book plots the course of the early life of Stephen Daedalus, his struggles with religion, education and relationships. All the things that matter in life. At that time the way people lived in Ireland was strongly controlled by the Catholic Church. We all know how that has turned out. As a lapsed catholic, even I shuddered and felt troubled by the four page description of hell.

2. Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. Published by the Penguin Group1999 (First published 1839)

I like a good dose of Dickens every now and then. I read Nicholas Nickleby recently. If you want a roller coaster of emotions, good, bad and ugly this is for you. The evil Ralph Nickleby and the Yorkshire headmaster, Squeers of Do The Boys Hall, are counterbalanced by the angelic Brothers Cheeryble and a few ,”Madonna,” like young women.It wouldn’t be Dickens without an angelic, perfect, beautiful young woman, defenceless waiting to be saved. Its Dickens at his best, mining the depths of humanity, sending your emotions in all directions like a firework display.

3. The Neopolitan Novels by Ellena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein, and published by Europa Editions (2012-2015). Four novels entitled:

  • My Brilliant Friend.

  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.

  • The Story of a New Name.

  • The Story of the Lost Child.

Even if you read just one of these amazing novels it is worth it. The quartet is a powerful evocation of humanity. Like all of us, the characters in these novels make awful mistakes and some terrible things happen to them but nevertheless their lives move forward. Lina and Ellena, two friends who have known each other from birth, brought up in the back streets of Naples live off their innate animal intelligence. Ferrante plots their lives. If you think in terms of soul mates these two are each one half of the same organism. Both brilliant in different ways, their lives diverge but the link between them always remains. Their power and strength is derived from their connection. Together they are a force of nature. It is tough reading at times . There is not much humour but you feel that you have gone through a cathartic experience. This is Joyce and Dickens combined. Ferrante is a genius.

4. Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney. Published by Faber and Faber, 2017

This is the book Rooney wrote before, “Normal People.” Set in Ireland in the present time, it plots the love lives of young people. Rooney writes about her own age group. She is a great writer, plotting human relations through many hard, confusing, elating and passionate moments. Her characters are on a journey. The novel feels real, honest and gritty, with tenderness mixed in. Even at my advanced age I can empathise with the way their relationships pan out. This is the book James Joyce wanted to write, tried to write and for which he was virtually kicked out of Ireland.

5. The Rio Tape/Slide Show (Radical Community Photography in Hackney in the 1980s)

Published by Isola Press London (IsolaPress.com) October 2020.

Ok, this is not a novel but it engaged and absorbed me completely. I felt so inspired I wrote a long review for my blog, London Calling. Hackney is a London Borough in the east end of London. In the 1980s, there was a lot of unemployment and poverty. It was a whole melting pot of different cultures and ethnic minorities. People were bullied by the police and government policies made life even harder. The Rio Tape Slide project based at The Rio Cinema in Kingsland Road began community initiatives. They educated the local people in ideas, photography, art workshops, news reporting, writing and community action. News reals, shown at the cinema, were made by local people who went out with cameras to record and write about their community. The project brought people together to form very effective action groups. This is Gandhi’s peaceful action alongside Martin Luther King’s ideas about community . As well as the photographs illustrating much of what went on, there are essays written by some of the original organisers of the campaigns that occurred. They explain their philosophy and thinking behind their actions. This should be read by everybody. It is a template for grass roots social action. I kept thinking,” this is how it’s done!!” Politics can be beneficial.

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And, so, gentle readers. Which books have you read? Which of them would you recommend? Which new books would you add to our list in the comments?  Curious minds want to know. Thank you for participating!

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Inquiring readers: One of the activities I have missed the most during this year of COVID-19 is traveling abroad. In this blog post, Tony Grant takes us on a tour to The Vyne, which is one of England’s grand houses and is closely associated with Jane Austen and her family. Enjoy!

Gentle readers: Please note: this post is updated with corrections about the Stained Glass Windows and Flemish Tiles, as indicated in the comments by Stuart Hall, Tour Guide, The Vyne.

Image of The_Vyne_House wikipediaThe Vyne, Sherborne St John Hampshire, Image from Wikipedia

The Vyne, is an 18th century mansion near the village of Sherbourne St John. It is just north of the town of  Basingstoke; eight miles from Steventon, which is located south west of Basingstoke; eighteen miles from Chawton; twenty miles north of Winchester; and just over fifty miles from the centre of London. It is a typical grand house that, although its present appearance is 18th century, has been developed and adapted over the centuries to fit different periods. In the late 18th century its proximity to Basingstoke and Steventon put it and the Chute family, who owned it, within Jane Austen’s family local connections. George and Cassandra Austen, after their marriage in Bath, moved to Steventon in 1764 when George and Cassandra Austen first took up the living of Steventon Parish and were set to start their family with their first child, James, born on February 13th, 1765. Jane, the Austen’s eighth child, was born 16th December, 1775. As the vicar of Steventon, George Austen associated with the country gentry and landowners in the area and these included the Chutes at The Vyne in Sherborne St John.

The Vyne Estate, The National Trust Map, image by Tony Grant

The Vyne Estate, The National Trust Map, image by Tony Grant

The Vyne was first built as a large Tudor mansion by William, 1st Lord Sandys, Henry VIII’s Lord Chamberlain who died in 1540. The King himself, was entertained three times at The Vyne by Lord Sandys. The wealth of the Sandys family declined slowly through the centuries, but the Civil Wars 1642 – 1651 finished the family as an authority in the country and their wealth declined drastically. In 1653 the estate was sold to Chaloner Chute, who was the Speaker in the House, a role which had great power in Parliament shaping how Parliament debated issues and passed legislation during the last Commonwealth. The Commonwealth was set up after the execution of Charles 1st and continued to a little after Oliver Cromwell’s death and the reinstatement of the monarchy. Chaloner Chute was a very important man in the country. He reduced the size of the original Tudor mansion and modernised it, employing John Webb, a talented pupil of Inigo Jones to redesign it.

Floorplan of The VyneThe floor plan of The Vyne, The National Trust

Chute died in 1659 and not much more was done to the house for the next hundred years. His great grandson, John Chute (1701-76) inherited the house in 1754. John Chute was a talented architect and along with his friend Horace Walpole helped Walpole design the Gothic interiors of Strawberry Hill, Walpole’s house at Twickenham. Along with Walpole he also redesigned the Gothic interior of the chapel at The Vyne. In his early thirties, he brought back mementoes from his grand tour of Europe which remain in the house today. 

John Chute died without heirs in 1776 and the house passed to his cousin Thomas Lobb (1721-90), the son of a Thomas Lobb of Norfolk who had married Elizabeth Chute (d 1725) in 1720, hence the family connection. This second Thomas Lobb assumed the name of Chute when John Chute died and passed the Vyne to him, thus keeping the family name extant. Thomas (Lobb) Chute married Anne Rachael Wiggett (1733-90) in 1753.

They had two sons, William John Chute (1757-1824) and Thomas Chute (1772-1827). William, who inherited the house in 1790, married Elizabeth Smith in 1794.

Upon his death in 1824 the Vyne passed to his younger brother Thomas, a clergyman. As neither William nor Thomas had issue, the house was left in 1827 to William John Chute’s godson and part of the Wiggett family, William Lyde Wiggett (1800-79). THIS William assumed the name of Chute in 1827 and succeeded to the Vyne in 1842 when Elizabeth Smith Chute passed away.

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James Austen, Jane Austen’s eldest brother (above image on the right), became a close and lifelong friend of Tom Chute, William John Chute’s brother. They both loved fox hunting and often rode with the hounds together. On his clergyman’s income, James Austen was able to keep his own pack of hounds. As rector of Steventon, George Austen, Jane’s father, was also a visitor to the Chute family home.

In Pride and Prejudice, Mrs Bennet and the Bennet girls were all a flutter at wealthy landowners, such as Fitzwilliam Darcy, came to live in their neighbourhood. The game was on to get her daughters married into a wealthy strata of society and rise in the world. You had to be ambitious if nothing else and take a chance.

The local clergy were regularly invited to the local landowner’s home for dinner; they became almost a part of the family in many ways. Mr Collins waxed lyrical about his great honour of being invited to Rosings by Lady Catherine de Bourgh. 

“She had asked him twice to dine at Rosings and had sent for him only the Saturday before  to make up her pool of quadrille in the evening… she made not the smallest objection to his joining in the society of the neighbourhood.”

We can gather that James Austen became closely associated with the Chute family, first because of his father’s connections and subsequently as the vicar of  Sherborne St John, the parish in which The Vyne was located.  Later he took over the incumbency of Steventon Parish from his father, a mere eight miles from The Vyne, which kept him close to the Chutes and the great house.  

James accumulated parishes throughout his clerical career. Deirdre le Faye enumerates the following. 

“curate of Stoke Charity , Hants, 1788, (the year he completed his studies with an MA from Oxford), the curate at Overton Hants in 1790, the vicar at Sherborne St John in 1791, the curate of Deane in 1791, the vicar of Cubbington in 1792, the perpetual curate of Hunningham in 1805  curate of Steventon (under his father) in 1801 and finally the vicar of Steventon  between 1805 and 1819 (died 1819).” 

Photo of The grave of James and Mary Austen at Steventon

James is buried alongside his wife in Steventon Churchyard. Image courtesy of Tony Grant.

Jane and Cassandra fully took part in local society, including friendships formed through family associations and connections provided by their father and brothers. Jane often wrote about her acquaintances and the local activities she took part in, including information she knew Cassandra would be interested in, often referring to the Chutes of The Vyne.

Thursday 14th – Friday 15th January 1796

“Friday- At length the Day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, and when you receive this it will be over- My tears flow as I write, at the melancholy idea. William Chute called here yesterday. I wonder what he means by being so civil. There is a report that Tom ( Chute)  is going to be married to a Litchfield Lass.”

On Saturday 1st November 1800, Jane went to a ball , presumably at Basingstoke.

“It was a pleasant ball, and still more good than pleasant, for there were nearly 60 people and sometimes we had 17 couples-The Portsmouths, Dorchesters, Boltons, Portals and Clerks were there and all the meaner and more unusual etc etc’s- There was a scarcity of men in general and a still greater scarcity of any that were much good for much .- I danced nine dances out of ten, five with Steven Terry, T. Chute and James Digwood and four with Catherine-“

Saturday 9th November 1800

“Mary fully intended writing to you by Mr Chutes frank and only happened intirely (JA’s spelling) to forget it- but will write soon-“

On Saturday3rd January 1801 Jane saw Tom Chute when she visited Ash Park. On Friday 9th January  a few days later she saw him again at Deane. These are all houses belonging to the local gentry in Hampshire.

On Monday 22nd April 1805 she hears of Tom Chute’s fall from a horse.

“I am waiting to know how it happened before I begin pitying him.”

On the 8th January 1807, Jane adds another news item to her letter to Cassandra

“…. and another that Tom Chute is going to settle in Norfolk.” This was of course where another Chute family property was located, through the Wiggett connection.”

In January 1813, she again refers to the use of Mr Chute’s franks.

And probably most intriguing of all on Wednesday, February 26th 1817 Jane writes,

“I am sorry to hear of Caroline Wiggetts being so ill. Mrs Chute would feel almost like a mother in losing her.”

The reference to using the Chutes’ “frank” refers to the means by which the Chutes addressed an envelope. The MP wrote the address, dated it properly, and wrote the word “FREE” in the middle of his signature. This  meant that the recipient of the letter didn’t pay for its delivery (which was the custom), but that the Chutes would pay.  At the time of this last message Jane was still in the process of writing Sanditon and she had a mere few months left to live. Jane died in Winchester on the 18th July 1817. The Chutes remained in her sphere of interest to the last. 

Claire Tomalin makes links between Jane Austen’s real life associations, the Chutes, etc., and some of her novels’ characters. She surmises that William John Chute and Elizabeth Chute nee Smith could have inspired some of her ideas about Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. Jane and Elizabeth Chute did not become great friends but Elizabeth Chute was well read and was an intelligent person from all accounts. There is also the matter of Caroline Wiggett, who was mentioned in the letter above. Caroline was a second cousin of William’s mother, who came to live with Elizabeth and William and thought of them as her Aunt and Uncle. She was brought up at The Vyne from 1803. From Caroline’s reminiscences we learn that she had a rather lonely childhood at The Vyne. Could she have been an inspiration for Fanny Price in Mansfield Park? Tomlin rightly warns us about making too many assumptions. Writers use many experiences from their lives but use them creatively within their works. A writer will not use personal experiences in a factual way, but aspects of their experiences can inevitably be adapted, drawn upon, and used fictionally.

However, what attracts me most about Jane’s letters, which is clearly obvious in the quotations above, is her humorous tone, often teasing, and making fun of those people and situations she writes about. Of course these letters are private letters to her dear sister Cassandra. She and Cassandra would have had their private jokes and opinions, not for publication. Haven’t we all?

Eventually in 1956, upon the death of Sir Charles Chute, the final Chute owner, The Vyne was bequeathed to The National Trust, who take care of the house today. It is open to the public.

Photo of a National Trust membership cardNational Trust Membership card.

A few years ago, Emily, one of our daughters, bought us a National Trust membership as a Christmas present. The trust looks after hundreds of old houses, estates, gardens, coastal paths and wild areas of the British Isles. With membership we get free entry into these estates, gardens and historic houses, which is an amazing thing. 

In March 2017, Marilyn and I went to visit The Vyne. I had heard of the Austen connection, of course, and also the connection with Horace Walpole (1717-1797) and the Gothic Revival movement. After university, Emily had worked as an intern at Strawberry Hill House, Walpole’s mansion at Twickenham, and we visited Strawberry Hill with Emily as our guide. We were expecting to see something of the Gothic Revival style of interior design at The Vyne, just as we had seen at Strawberry Hill. 

Photo of Sherborne St John road sign Sherborne St John. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

I have focused a lot of this article on the period when the Austens lived at Steventon and on the connections between the Austen family and the Chutes. In an earlier period, Horace Walpole was best friends with John Chute (1701-1776) before William John Chute and Thomas Chute, the Austens’ acquaintances.

The Vyne is rich in objects and paintings brought to The Vyne after John Chute returned from his grand tour of Europe. At 39, John was older than his fellow travellers. His cousin Francis Whitehead, who he went on tour with, was 23, and the friends he made on the tour, including Horace Walpole, were virtually a generation younger.

Photo of Some of John Chute's porcelain collectionPorcelain brought back by John Chute from his Grand Tour. Image courtesy of Tony Grant.

Marilyn and I entered through the entrance on the south side overlooking the extensive surrounding parkland and the lake.  Each room is attended by a guide. Once you ask a question you are inundated with the most interesting and detailed, in-depth information about the Chutes, the house, and the very room you might be standing in at the given moment.

Photo of the Vyne library, National TrustThe library. Image from The National Trust

We walked through the rooms packed with objects and paintings. The library has two large globes of the world, a fantastic ornate baroque fireplace, full length portraits of the Chutes, and walls with shelf upon shelf of books. I must admit to a quirky disposition when I walk through libraries in old houses. You must not touch the books. They are rare, ancient, bound in leather and cost a fortune. I have an enormous urge, which I have to fight against, to spend time with the said books, take them off the shelves and read them. It is always a difficult time having to merely walk past them. I spent a moment reading the titles on the spines though. 

We walked along the oak gallery, the walls lined with portraits and landscapes. The floor is of oak timbers. The walls are faced with oak wainscoting with an intricate “folded linen” effect carved and finely chiselled into the surface of each panel.  They are similar to the panelling I have seen in the Tudor Palace at Hampton Court and other Tudor mansions around the country. This is a fantastic example of the Gothic Revival on the walls, created in the 18th century and not the 16th century.

Photo of linen fold panelingLinen fold oak panelling. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

The chapel attached to the eastern wing of the house is a sight to behold. It is the epitome of Gothic Revival. We think Jane Austen did visit The Vyne, so there is a good chance she too gasped at what you see today. Horace Walpole advised on the decoration. John Chute employed an Italian craftsman called Spiridore Roma, who worked on the chapel between 1769-1771. He used a technique called trompe l’oeil, to create a three dimensional effect of buttresses, Gothic arched windows, and fan ceilings.

Photo of Trompe l'oeil in the chapel National Trust pictureTrompe l’oeil in the chapel. National Trust image.

I have seen the real thing in Bath Abbey and other medieval churches and cathedrals and it is obvious that this is not the real thing, but this paint effect is very impressive indeed. There are medieval-styled tiles on the floor and stained glass windows–all of 16th century medieval originals. The effect is glorious.

Image of Tudor floor tiles (Gothic Revival)

Image of Tudor Revival Gothic floor tiles, courtesy of Tony Grant

Next to the chapel is the Tomb Chamber. It is set out like a Gothic cathedral chapter house. It has valuabele 16th century stained glass windows and a stone slab floor, but the centre piece is a table tomb with a reclining white marble statue of Speaker Chute  (Chaloner Chute 1595- 1659) lying full length with his head propped up on an elbow. Horace Walpole wanted to create the emotions derived from Gothic architecture and in this chapel and tomb chamber he aided John Chute, his friend in recreating that Gothic moment.

Photo of Challoner Chutes tombChaloner Chutes tomb. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

After our tour inside the great house Marilyn and I walked in the grounds. We had a wonderful view of the long lake, smooth green lawns, and the massive cedar trees. We went inside the brick summer house and looked up at its web-like beamed ceiling.

Photo of the summer houseThe Summer House. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

We walked through the walled garden where the National Trust is recreating a great houses kitchen garden with a variety of shrubs, fruit trees, herbs and vegetables.

Photo of the kitchen garden by Tony GrantThe walled kitchen garden. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

 We walked along the Lime Walk and listened to the wind in the branches and birds singing in the canopy.

Photo of The lawns and lake at the front of The Vyne

The lawns and lake at the front of The Vyne. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

Visiting a National Trust property such as The Vyne lifts the spirits, and provides beauty, natural and man-made, that soothes the soul. Afterwards, we drove into the village of Sherborne St Peter nearby and walked to the church where James Austen was vicar.

References:

“The Vyne Hampshire,” published by The National Trust  1998 (revised 2015)

Jane Austen A Life, by Claire Tomalin published by Penguin Books 1997.

Jane Austen’s Letters Collected and edited by Deirdre Le Faye (Third Edition)  Published by Oxford University Press 1997.

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen  Published by Penguin Classics 1996

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen  Published by The Penguin English Library 1966

Tony Grant Posts:

 

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Standing, looking west across the Surrey countryside to the wooded ridge of hills in the distance, a line of trees mark the horizon. A sunny, hot day, blue skies with some clouds, small patches of white high above us,. Marilyn, Abi, Emily and myself stand two hundred and twenty four meters above sea level. Patches of fields lined with thick hedges of trees and shrubs spread out before us. Box, yew, beech, ash and oak populate the landscape gathered in woods or spread out in small copses on this hill top. Looking out over this scenery, I make out the distant markings of a football pitch. To one side is another field with a cricket square neatly and closely mowed in the middle of it, a wooden pavilion at one side of the field.

Image of a view of Burford.

Image of a view of Burford. Image courtesy of Tony Grant.

Below, almost looking straight down, a white 18th century mansion is surrounded by lawns and a pattern of four knot gardens are at the rear of the house. Although high up here there is no breeze and the trees are still and the air is warm. A few insects and butterflies move through the air nearby. Other people, families and partners and single walkers move at a distance across the chalk grassland steeply sloping down towards Burford Bridge that crosses the River Mole winding its way past the bottom of the hill. The A24, the Dorking bypass, hums with traffic. I catch glimpses of the red clay tiled roofs of flint cottages , through the canopy of trees, that make up the village of Mickleham to the north. Dorking is to the south. Great Bookham is due west and Leatherhead is unseen to the north west. The chatter of children as they race down the steep slope of Burford Spur I hear nearby but their sounds get fainter as they race away. The sun warms my skin, pleasantly.

Image of Burford spur

Image of Burford Spur, courtesy of Tony Grant

We walk on down Burford Spur before turning back. I am now required to step upwards, leaning forward, and push hard on thigh and calf muscles to make my way back up to the top of this very steep slope. I parked my car near the old fort at the National Trust car park.

On top of Box Hill. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

On top of Box Hill. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

I decided to pick up a piece of flint to take home. Stones make a place. One stone is a piece of that place. This piece of flint was still embedded in the firm ground and some kicking and pulling and pushing with my hands were needed to prise it loose. I take stones home from places . A piece of smooth granite from a beach in Cornwall, some sandstone from a cliff face in Dorset, a piece of shale from the isle of White and now this piece of flint from the top of Box Hill in Surrey.

The Box Hill Picnic: Emma

Image of A view of Boxhill, Surrey (with Dorking in the distance), George Lambert, 1733, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain image.

A view of Boxhill, Surrey (with Dorking in the distance), George Lambert, 1733, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain image.

Things did not go quite as planned or as wished. The Sucklings were unable to come. Mrs Elton was disappointed, her plans thwarted but the trip to Box Hill was to go ahead.

Emma thought she would like to go to Box Hill too, separately from Mrs Elton’s expedition of course. She didn’t want to miss out on what others might experience. Her party should be simple and unpretentious compared to that of Mrs Eltons. Mr Weston decided other plans and suggested to Emma and Mrs Elton combining the two parties. Mrs Elton agreed and Emma felt forced to very reluctantly agree.

Mr Weston directed everybody on the day. His wife, Mrs Weston, was to stay with Mr Woodhouse to keep him company. Emma and Harriet were to go in one carriage. Miss Bates and Jane Fairfax, were to go with Mr and Mrs Elton and the gentlemen, Mr Knightley, Frank Churchill and Mr Weston on horse back.

Chris Hammond illustration of the picnic on Box Hill in Jane Austen’s Emma. Image in the public domain.

All admired the views on arrival. But there was a

deficiency.. languor.. a want of spirts and a lack of unison.”

They all separated too much into parties. Frank Churchill was silent and stupid, looking without seeing.

Frank eventually turned his attention to Emma and overtly carried on a most blatant flirtation, an act that Emma, perhaps to her surprise, doesn’t enjoy. It is all an obvious act. She feels his falsehood. Frank Churchill proceeds to upset Emma and the whole party by requesting they all reveal what they are thinking about. This makes the general mood worse. We can guess at their true thoughts. Emma is rightly afraid to hear their honest opinions. She feels the unease and disquiet created by this whole venture.He changes the request, asking each to say

one thing clever or two things moderately clever or three things dull.”

Miss Bates volunteers, perhaps to fill the unwanted silence and apprehension, suggesting she can say three things dull. Emma quips that she would find it difficult to limit the number to

only three at once.”

Miss Bates takes the hint and is mortified. Mr Weston provides a conundrum based on Emma’s name. Finally as they depart Mr Knightley takes Emma aside and points out the hurt she has caused her lifelong acquaintance and family friend, Miss Bates.

It was badly done indeed.”

The party to Box Hill is certainly not a success. Everything goes wrong. Mr and Mrs Elton walk off , Frank Churchill has his mind on other things, Emma feels uncomfortable under his feigned flirtations, she up sets Miss Bates and Mr Knighltley is angered by Emmas behaviour.This is the point in the novel when Emma has her naivity in human interactions and her immaturity laid bare. We all have to confront ourselves before we can change and develop. Emma is confronted by her own shortcomings. It is the beginning of self awareness and the need to be remorseful. A painful journey for Emma. This chapter is only is only six pages long in my edition but the human traits that it reveals are numerous,and the importance to the arc of the plot and the final outcomes is pivotal. Officiousness, immaturity, pride, selfishness, naivity, anger, cunning, secrecy, deceit, remorse and forgiveness. ”It was badly done indeed.” But, in another way, it was, well done.

A piece of flint:

The flint is heavy, about two kilogrammes in weight, nine centimetres long and about five centimetres wide.There are sharp angular edges where some of the flint has been broken off. Bluey black glassy hard faces are revealed. The stone is mostly covered in a thin white hard calcareous rind like the rind covering a cheese, enveloping most of its smooth surface. Hollows and rounded lumps push up beneath its white ,”skin,” like the shapes of bones lieing beneath its surface, finger bones, wrist joints, protruding heels, knuckle bones. A little bit of crumbling chalk, the substance it has been torn from, hides in a hollow on one side.

Image of The Stonebreaker by John Brett, exhibited 1858, Wikimedia Commons

The Stonebreaker by John Brett, exhibited 1858, Wikimedia Commons

Chalk was formed during the cretaceous period some 145 to 66 million years ago. It was formed under marine conditions from the gradual accumulation of minute calcite shells shed from micro-organisms called coccolithophores  A white muddy layer was formed on the sea bed. The same earth movements , the violent shifting of the earths plates, that formed the Alps formed these downlands in Southern England rippling and folding the earths surface. That soft white sediment of calcite shells hardened and formed the chalk. Within the chalk, creatures such as sponges and other organisms created pockets which, molecule by molecule by molecule were replaced by flint as water and minerals from the chalk seeped into the spaces.

Flint has been used for many things over the millennia. Axes, knives and arrow heads, used by the hunter gatherers that roamed this land over ten thousand years ago, were made from flint. It has been used in rural buildings. Today we can see many cottages and farm buildings located around Box Hill with layers of flint embedded in the surface of their walls. Some village churches are made from flint. The Romans built coastal forts from flint. It is a very durable material. Flint was used to create the spark that ignited the gunpowder on the ignition pans of flintlock muskets. It was used in the eighteenth century to strike against a piece of steel to create sparks to light fires with. We can say about, a cold callous person, that they have, “a heart of flint.”

Image of Box Hill flint found by Tony Grant. Image permission of Tony Grant

Image of Box Hill flint found by Tony Grant. Image courtesy of Tony Grant

Here is my piece of flint from the top of Box Hill in Surrey , from the very location, at the top of Burford Spur with Mickleham to the north and Dorking to the south where Emma Woodhouse and the gentle people of Highbury gathered for a picnic.

Tony Grant and family on top of Box Hill. Image courtesy of Tony Grant.

All this on a hill of chalk downland in the centre of Surrey on a hot summers day.

 

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Inquiring readers,

I’m pleased to formally announce my new Jane Austen’s World (JAW) partners, who will help me oversee this blog. Regular readers are already acquainted with the contributions of Tony Grant, Rachel Dodge, and Brenda Cox. This month, I have formalized our association, inviting them to join me in contributing to a blog that has become too big for one person to manage. Thankfully, all three have agreed to come on board.

To celebrate this change, formal introductions are in order!

About Tony Grant, Contributor to JAW Since 2010

Inquiring readers, if you type Tony Grant into this blog’s search bar you’ll discover page upon page of his varied contributions to JAW, which include his breath taking photographs of Great Britain. Tony lives in London and has acted as a tour guide all over the South of England and London. Without him, I could not have kept this blog going during my father’s final illness from 2012 to 2014. Lately, he and I have been Zooming regularly with Deb Barnum of Jane Austen in Vermont. We three Austen-teers have become virtual bosom buddies.

Tony Grant is a retired teacher and writes a blog called London Calling. He has been writing articles about subjects that interest him for many years. Tony also writes articles about the world of Jane Austen. He has been published in the Jane Austen Society of Australia magazine, The Chronical, the Jane Austen in Vermont blog and in Jane Austen’s World. Tony is a literacy mentor for the Jane Austen Foundation that was founded by Jane Austen’s 5th great niece Caroline Knight. He is also a judge for the foundation’s short story writing competition and takes part in charity walks to raise money for the foundation’s literacy work in Africa, India and Australia.

Image of Tony Grant in 1978

Tony Grant in 1978

Image of Tony Grant in 2020

Tony Grant in 2020

Tony is a volunteer at The Museum of The Home in Shoreditch, north of the City of London. He takes tours of the 18th century almshouses and supports the curators in researching new exhibitions.

Tony became a qualified teacher in 1974. He obtained a Batchelor of Arts Honours degree in English literature from the Open University and a Masters degree in Museums and Galleries in Education from the Institute of Education UCL.

He has been married to Marilyn, a fellow teacher, for 38 years. They have four children: Sam, Alice, Emily and Abigail and one granddaughter, Emma.

So how did Tony get interested in Jane Austen? He was born and brought up in Southampton. His grandmother often took him into town as a youngster. They would go to the Tudor House Museum. Tony has always loved museums. As they walked through Castle Square she invariably said, as they passed the Juniper Berry pub, ”That’s the site of the house where Jane Austen lived.” – Tony

About Rachel Dodge, Contributor to JAW Since 2017

Rachel is another savior of this blog. Around the time that my mother became ill and when my work commitments increased significantly, Rachel noticed an alarming drop in JAW blog posts. She introduced herself and asked if she could submit posts. Upon reading the quality of her writing, I encouraged her to submit anything she wanted as often as she could. Much to my delight, Rachel took me up on the offer! Rachel is super busy these days overseeing online courses and teaching her children from home. I’m amazed that she finds time to write for JAW and work on a second book!

Rachel Dodge, Versailles, 1998

Recent image of Rachel Dodge, Serbourne Park

Recent image of Rachel Dodge, Sherbourne Park

Rachel Dodge teaches college writing classes and Jane Austen seminars, speaks at libraries, teas, and book clubs, and is the author of Praying with Jane: 31 Days Through the Prayers of Jane Austen (2018) and The Anne of Green Gables Devotional: A Chapter-by-Chapter Companion for Kindred Spirits (2020).

Rachel is a graduate of the University of Southern California (B.A. in English and public relations) and California State University, Sacramento (M.A. in English literature). She wrote her master’s thesis on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and won the 2005 Dominic J. Bazzanella Literary Award for her paper on Elizabeth Bennet. She was the featured speaker at the Sacramento Library’s How Austentatious! series, the Notable Books series, and the 2014 Jane Austen Birthday Tea. Rachel’s writing has been featured in Jane Austen’s World, Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine, Jane Austen in Vermont, and others. You can visit her at www.racheldodge.com

Rachel’s a great supporter of Jane Austen’s House Museum (JAHM), the Chawton House Library, and the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. She’s visited numerous Austen historic sites on research trips. Her favorite trip so far: When she had the great honor of signing copies of Praying with Jane at Jane Austen’s House! – Rachel

About Brenda Cox, Contributor to JAW Since 2019 

Rachel Dodge introduced me to Brenda at the JASNA GMA in Williamsburg last October. By then, Brenda had written a number of articles for JAW. Her style is as clear and lovely as Rachel’s, and their articles elevated my blog to another level. Brenda travels extensively and is at present busy packing for yet another trip. She still found time to send her bio. Brenda’s educational and employment background puts my erratic bio to shame, and so I feel triply blessed to include her contributions along with Rachel’s and Tony’s.

Image of Brenda Cox in High School

Brenda Cox in High School

Recent image of Brenda Cox

Recent image of Brenda Cox

Brenda S. Cox has loved Jane Austen for many years. She is fascinated by the history of Austen’s time and the nuances of Austen’s books. Brenda has been doing extensive research in two areas: the church of Austen’s day, and science of Austen’s day. She would love to answer any questions you have about those topics. Brenda presented at JASNA’s AGM (national meeting) last year, and has had articles published in Persuasions On-Line. Her current project, nearing completion, is a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. You can visit her at her blog, “Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen,” and on Facebook.

Brenda loves learning, and appreciated the privilege of homeschooling her four children (now all adults) because she got to learn so much along with them. She also enjoys cross-stitching, and reading a wide range of books. She travels and works overseas, and values the beautiful variety of cultures and languages. She has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, a master’s in applied linguistics, and now spends much of her time writing. She looks forward to interacting with you all! – Brenda

About Vic Sanborn, JAW Founder and Administrator Since 2007

Please note: the three previous bios are written properly in the third person. Since I have never been regarded as proper (Jane would have a field day with that!), I wrote mine in the familiar “Me, Myself, and I.”

In my largely abandoned Twitter account I present myself as a Dutch character in a Jane Austen novel. That phrase describes me to a tee—a bit cheeky but reverential towards Jane Austen’s awesome talent. I was born in Jakarta Indonesia to Dutch colonial parents, lived in Den Haag, The Netherlands for six years, and emigrated to the U.S. at nine years of age with my family. As my parents said when we landed in vibrant, bustling New York city – we’ve finally found our home! When I was 14 years old, I received The Complete Novels of Jane Austen (a modern library giant edition) for Christmas, and thus my lifelong love affair with Austen began.

Image of Vic Sanborn in St. Thomas, 1973

Vic Sanborn in St. Thomas, 1973

Recent image of Vic Sanborn

Recent image of Vic Sanborn

I am neither a scholar nor an academic. Rather, I describe myself as a jack-“ess” of all trades. My degrees in biology and art history, and minor in English literature attest to that claim. I also attended the Maryland Institute College of Art during summer months and evenings to study painting and drawing. My employment history is equally all over the map, having worked as an EKG technician on weekends during college; as a technician in Johns Hopkins and Harvard Research labs; as a watercolor artist who showed her increasingly larger works in local galleries and statewide exhibits; as a community relations/outreach director for a nonprofit literacy organization; as a VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) to coordinate a two-year consortium of Baptist Churches interested in starting adult literacy projects in disadvantaged neighborhoods; and as a literacy specialist for a statewide, university-based professional development organization that provided training to adult education and literacy program staff and teachers. My one constant was my love for Austen. I started Jane Austen’s World thirteen years ago—my longest ongoing “work” commitment—that is still going strong (thanks to JAW’s many readers and new blog partners).

I am particularly grateful to Margaret Sullivan (Austenblog), whose mention of my blog in 2007 drove visitors to JAW, and Laurel Ann Nattress (Austenprose), who invited me to join her in writing for PBS Masterpiece during the 2009 Jane Austen season. That association put both our blogs on the map. We have been e-friends ever since. (BTW, both L.A. and MAGS are also published book authors.)

I genuinely enjoy the company of Janeites and the people I’ve met through this blog and my association with JASNA local groups. Mostly, I love getting to know Austen better through study, research, and reading. The most interesting world in my mind is the one that contains anything Jane Austen! Join me for more Austen-related information on my Pinterest site and Facebook group at Jane Austen and Her Regency World. – Vic

So, gentle readers, please send a virtual clapping of hands and kudos to my new compatriots! I am excited about the next phase for JAW. To skew Bette Davis’s famous line, “Hang on to your seat belts, it’s going to be a fabulous ride!”

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Inquiring readers,

During the Covid-19 lock down, I’ve missed traveling around my country. I intended to go abroad as well, but had to lay those plans aside. The internet affords me a way to satisfy my wanderlust.

Today as I e-searched Jane Austen’s gardens and her family’s use of fruits and herbs in making wines and home medicines, I discovered this lovely blog by author Susan Branch. Susan visited Chawton Cottage in 2012. Her photos and delightful narrative of her trip add to those I featured from blog contributors Tony Grant and Rachel Dodge. I’m publishing the first 20% of Susan’s post and will then link to her blog. Enjoy!

Image of Susan Branch's blog and post of her journey to Chawton Cottage

Image of Susan Branch’s blog and post of her journey to Chawton Cottage in 2012

Jane Austen

On our last day in England in the spring of 2012, just a few hours before boarding the Queen Mary 2 for our trip home, we stopped to visit Jane Austen’s house in a little country town called Chawton. I can’t say we saved the best for last, because everything we saw was “best.”  But this house was wonderful and better than I ever imagined it could be.  It’s in Hampshire, centrally located in the south of  England (very close to Southampton) — you can see it on the map on page six of my book chronicling this magical trip called   A FINE ROMANCE.

"Marry me, my wonderful darling friend" Quote by Mr. Knightley to Emma in the orchard

Crossroads

Sign to Chawton Cottage, the car park St. Nicholas church and Chawton House, and the village. Image courtesy Susan Branch.

First off, you have to know how this quiet neighborhood sounded this day!  The only sound missing is “my-toe-hurts-bet-tee” the nature national anthem of England, but there were wood pigeons cooing liltingly from every branch!

Chawton Cottage

Chawton Cottage with a view of the visitor entrance. Image courtesy of Susan Branch.

This is the 17th century house where Jane Austen did some of her most important work.  She lived here from 1809 to 1817, and published four novels during that time, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, and Mansfield Park.

How beautiful!  Let’s go find a parking space!

A Jack Russell terrier views Chawton Cottage from a house across the street. Image courtesy of Susan Branch.

A Jack Russell terrier views Chawton Cottage from a house across the street. Image courtesy of Susan Branch.

After parking, we walked for a little bit through the leafy old neighborhood and something interesting happened.  I took a picture of this little Jack Russell in a window of the house across the street from Jane’s and posted it here on the blog.  Later, after we returned home, I received an email from the owner of this house!  Her name is Mary and the dog’s name is Basil!  Mary had just happened upon our blog.  Isn’t that amazing? What a small world!  She’s actually written a cute children’s book about Basil which she sent to me . . .

Thatched roof cottage in Chawton. Image courtesy of Susan Branch.

Thatched roof cottage in Chawton. Image courtesy of Susan Branch.

 Many of the homes in Chawton have thatched roofs like Mary’s.  It’s a darling town ~ and we only had one afternoon. I wish we’d saved more time for this ~ there’s a lot of wonderfulness to see here.  Keep that in mind for when you go and have at least one full day.

To read the rest of this fascinating post, please click here  to enter Susan’s blog. Note her journey through Chawton village, the rooms through the cottage, and her walk in the gardens.

well behaved women rarely make history signBTW, I noticed on Susan’s sidebar a saying that I keep in my office. Sisters always have a way of finding each other!!

Other posts on this blog about Chawton Cottage and Chawton House

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