January 2013 marks the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice, the most popular novel from one of England’s best loved authors, Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice captured the hearts of the country when it was published in 1813, and continues to do so through television and film adaptations as well as countless editions of the book.
Jane saw a lot of England during her short life, from Hampshire and Bath to Oxford and Derbyshire - places that inspired her and her writing. Here, VisitEngland looks at the locations that featured in the lives of Jane and her characters and how readers can follow in their footsteps.
Jane Austen was born in 1775 in the Hampshire village of Steventon. This pretty village in the heart of the South Downs comprises a pretty church and a cluster of chocolate box houses. The church remains largely unchanged, and makes a great starting point for any Austen fan. Like Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, Jane was a keen walker and often made the journey to Popham Lane, where the family collected their letters in North Walton – today the Wheatsheaf Inn.
In the summer of 1783, when Jane was 12 years old, she was sent to Oxford with her sister Cassandra to be taught by a Mrs Cawley. At this time, Jane’s eldest brother James was at St John’s (like his father before him) and Mrs Cawley was a family connection: her brother was married to Jane’s aunt. Visitors to Oxford can visit St John’s College and the Bodleian Library, which has some original Jane Austen manuscripts. Dedicated fans can enrol in the Oxford University Summer School, which is running a Jane Austen: Her Life and Times course for summer 2013. The two-week residential course costs £3,395.Jane and Cassandra briefly studied in Southampton and Reading before their schooling was curtailed due to constraints on the family finances. Jane returned to the family home at Steventon Rectory in 1787, where she remained for her young adulthood and discovered her passion for writing, penning several short stories and poems.
The Bath Years
Aged 26, Jane moved with her family to Bath, where they lived for five years in a series of regency townhouses. The city’s Jane Austen Centre is a must-see for Pride & Prejudice fans, telling the story of Jane’s experience in the city and its influence on her writing.
Bath’s Georgian architecture has changed little since Austen’s time, so a walking tour is a great way to familiarise yourself with this heritage city. The Jane Austen Centre offers dedicated Austen city tours every Saturday and Sunday. The houses where she lived and the settings for the novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion can all be seen within a mile of the Jane Austen Centre on Gay Street. Experienced Centre guides really bring the tours to live, giving appropriate quotes from Austen’s novels and letters en route. Tours cost £6 per person.Bath’s annual Jane Austen Festival draws visitors from far and wide. Running 19 – 21 September 2013, next year’s festival promises to be the biggest and best yet, with more than 60 events taking place over nine days. Highlights include the impressive Grand Regency Promenade, led by the 32nd Cornwall Regiment and the Worcester Yeomanry Cavalry; productions by the Artifice Theatre Company held at the Guildhall and the Old Theatre, and the Regency Costumed Masked Ball in the Pump Rooms.
A Return to Hampshire
Following the death of her father, Jane returned to Hampshire in 1809, moving to a village cottage on the Chawton House Estate that her brother Edward had inherited. It was in Chawton that Jane spent her most prolific writing years, and where she published her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, in 1811 under the mysterious pseudonym ‘A Lady’.
Today, the house is Jane Austen’s House Museum, containing many of the Austens’ belongings and furniture as well as some original letters and manuscripts. To mark the anniversary of Pride and Prejudice, Jane’s most successful novel, the museum is hosting two exhibitions in 2013: The Story of Pride and Prejudice, in which the novel’s illustrations by Thompson will create a trail around the house (running Jan–Mar), and She Had Dressed With More Than Usual Care, an exhibition of the costumes worn in the much-loved 1995 BBC adaptation starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle (Sept-Dec). Adult tickets cost £7.50; Children £2 (under 6s free).Chawton House, whose ancient church houses the graves of Jane’s mother and sister, is today the inspirational setting for the Chawton House Library charity, which has an international reputation for its rare collection of women's writing. Visitors to the house can experience rare texts in Chawton’s inspirational setting, which brings their context to life and features paintings of some of the authors. Guided tours take place every Tuesday and Thursday at 2:30pm and include a thorough guided tour of the house and library. Adult tickets cost £6; Children £3.
The Story Ends in Winchester
Jane became ill and travelled to Winchester in May 1817 to be near her physician. Here, she stayed in a house on College Street (marked today by a blue plaque) close to the imposing Winchester Cathedral, until she died on 18 July aged just 41.
The Cathedral, where Jane Austen was laid to rest, has an illustrated exhibition running throughout the year that tells the story of Jane Austen’s life in Hampshire: her birth and childhood in Steventon, her writing and life in Chawton and her final few weeks and death in Chawton.
Visitors can walk through the exhibition at their own pace and see Jane’s memorial stone as well as the wall-mounted brass plaque that was added in 1872 to further address her literary achievements.Alternatively, avid fans can take a private tour with one of the Cathedral’s dedicated guides, who have researched Jane’s links with the Cathedral. Additional events planned at the Cathedral for 2013 include a Regency-style cream tea with a Jane Austen spoken word performance, and a ‘Jane Austen and the Navy’ lunch with a guest speaker.
Inspiration and Interpretation
Many scenes and settings in Austen’s novels were based on real-life locations. The Derbyshire town of Bakewell (of cherry and almond tarts fame) is considered to be the inspiration behind Lambton. It is believed that Jane Austen once stayed in local hotel The Rutland Arms whilst visiting the area and revising the final chapters of Pride and Prejudice. Single rooms from £88 per night; doubles from £140. Request to stay in Room 2, where Jane is rumoured to have stayed.
Pemberley, Mr Darcy’s grand home in Pride and Prejudice, was famously based on Chatsworth House, which Jane Austen would have visited while staying in Derbyshire. It is also mentioned in the novel as one of the estates Elizabeth Bennett visits before arriving at Pemberley.
The ancestral home of the Duke of Devonshire, Chatsworth is an iconic landmark in the verdant Derwent Valley, with some 300 rooms open to the public and gardens landscaped by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. The first big-screen adaptation of Pride and Prejudice in 65 years – the 2005 production starring Kiera Knightly and Matthew Macfadyen – set Pemberley at Chatsworth. Visitors will recognise the Painted Hall and Sculpture Gallery, which both feature in the production, as well as Chatsworth’s impressive façade. The house is open to visitors throughout the year. Entry costs £18 per adult; £12 per child. Online discounts available.Another star of the 2005 production was Basildon Park in Berkshire, which featured as the dreamy location for Darcy and Elizabeth’s first meeting at ‘Netherfield’. With both its impressive exterior and many of its indoor spaces featuring in the lavish production, Basildon is instantly recognisable to fans. The house is also the setting for the film’s sumptuous ballroom scenes, which take place in Basildon’s dining room. Entry to Basildon Park costs £10 per adult; £5 per child.
Perhaps the most important location is that of Longbourne, residence of the Bennett family and the site of much of the novel’s action and excitement. The 2005 film used Groombridge Place in Kent, while the six-part BBC adaptation featured Luckington Court in Wiltshire, which now offers dedicated tours showcasing filming locations around the house, which remains largely unchanged.
For other literature-inspired travel ideas, visit www.visitengland.com/literature