sábado, 28 de enero de 2012

Jane Austen’s writing table at Chawton

*To my English readers: I apologize for every mistake. Please be aware that I am a Spanish writer trying to translate what you have asked for. Versión en español (7/12/2011)

Jane Austen's writing table at Chawton

A cozy cottage in Chawton, near Winchester, was Jane Austen’s last home, which she just left for medical reasons shortly before her death. The details, photos and review of my visits to Chatow deserve its own entry in this blog. Today I’d like to write about the history of some objects owned by Jane Austen. Let’s start with her writing table.

Jane Austen's writing table (Chawton).
Not long before her death, Jane Austen revealed her ritual of writing: with a thin pen of ivory, less than two inches wide, on a flimsy board made of chestnut wood (a 12 inches panel). This table, sustained by only one foot, was folding, like most of the desks of the Regency. In this table Jane wrote her first novels, in a small room on the top floor of the rectory that her father held in Hampshire, although those novels remained unpublished. When the Austen family moved to Bath (1800), Jane barely could write, but the writing desk traveled with her, as it did to the Chawton cottage, owned by her brother Edward. With Jane lived in Chawton three women: her older sister Cassandra, her mother and Martha Lloyd, a close friend of the family.
Set of novels by Jane Austen.
From this table Jane revised the manuscripts of Sense and sensibility as well as the original Pride and Prejudice just before being sent to London to the publisher, in 1811 and 1813. Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion were written in this table. And it was there, her knuckles in contact with the fine wood, where Jane Austen could finally read the enthusiastic comments of her neighbors, as herself detailed in the letters to Cassandra.

After Jane’s death, in July 1817, Cassandra inherited the writing table, and when she also died, in 1845, the folding table was given to an old servant, as reward for his services. When, in the 19th century, the Jane Austen society began to collect her objects, manuscripts and memories, the small table was the first one that came back.Today, there it is, awaiting visitors, near the window.

Bracelet, Lock of Jane's hair, Topaz crosses.
Visiting Chawton is a rewarding experience, despite the not-so-comfortable journey travelling by bus from Winchester or even the risk of getting lost while walking from the bus stop (in the middle of the road) to Chawton. But don't worry: you feel it is worth just to see where the writer lived; the way the house is built; just to check the narrow stairs leading to the second floor; only for the joy of strolling around the secluded backyard.
The cottage is full of curious objects owned by Jane Austen. For instance, a blue bracelet with an incredibly modern design (in fact, I bought a similar one on a handicrafts fair in Madrid). Above the bracelet, a lock of Jane’s hair discolored from its autumn-brown original. There are also two Topaz crosses, a gift from Charles Austen to his sisters Jane (the right one) and Cassandra. We know for sure these were Jane and Cassandra’s crosses because Jane wrote it in one of her letters to Cassandra: “Charles has bought gold chains and crosses of Topaz for us (May 27, 1801)”.
Window to the backyard (Chawton).
The entire house is an inspiring experience if you truly love Jane and her novels, not only because you can collect fragments of the real woman who Jane was, but because you can also take a path of clues of how the writer was inspired. Discover, for example, that the gift of these Topaz crosses inspired Jane the chapter of Mansfield Park where William Price bought an Amber cross to Fanny.

Chawton cottage, Jane Austen’s last home, is the closest thing I know to open a window to the real Jane.

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