It is a truth universally acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice is one of the best novels and that Jane Austen is one of the best writers of all time. Interestingly, Austen was born and bred in Hampshire (for most part of her life) and Hampshire served as an inspiration for many her novels. So, this weekend I decided to trace her footsteps and visit places where she lived. Our first stop was the village of Steventon, located between Basingstoke and Overton. Jane was born in this picturesque village and spent the first 25 years of her life.
Characterised by green, marshy farm land on both sides, sheep grazing lazily its luscious pastures and dotted with cosy thatched homes; Steventon is as idyllic as it can get. Jane was the seventh of eight children, the second daughter, born to the Reverend George Austen and his wife Cassandra. She was born on 16 December 1775 at the Steventon rectory.
Jane like her literary heroine Elizabeth was an avid walker. She was often seen walking the marshy pathways of this quaint village; carefully observing people and their mannerisms. In Steventon, she wrote the first drafts of Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility. The Steventon rectory stands no longer but the St. Nicholas Church where Jane’s father worked as a clergyman is still the pride and joy of this village. Jane along with her family attended this Church regularly to listen to her father preach. Dating back to 12th century, it is a small, simple building that has retained its old-world charm.
As soon as you enter this Church, a warm, comforting silence envelops you and fragments of medieval wall painting will immediately catch your attention. Surprisingly, unlike Avon where you can see vignettes of Shakespeare’s life clearly; there are very few signs that prove Austen’s origin but a spire has been added since Austen’s lifetime, bearing a wind vane in the shape of a pen in her honour inside this Church.
When the Rev Austen decided to retire, he chose to move to Bath, when Jane was in her mid-twenties and the family stayed here for a period of five years till Rev Austen’s death. After her father’s death, the family was in a precarious financial state; they stayed briefly at Southampton before moving to Chawton village; another quintessential English village in Alton.
The Chawton Cottage served as Jane’s final home from her 1808 till her fatal illness and subsequent death in 1817. Jane settled into her writing here and also became a published author whilst staying here. This Cottage still holds the interest of many literature aficionados. Don’t be surprised if you come across a bunch of tourists from different nations all hoping to get to know their favourite author slightly better.
This charming 17th Century cottage is characterised by thatched roofs, quiet green of the village as well as brightly coloured flowers of the garden. Austen lived here with her mother, sister Cassandra and good friend Martha Lloyd. Inside the modest cottage, you will see Jane’s favourite spot—the tiny table where she etched her beloved characters.
Whilst writing occupied most of Jane’s life here; the house was also frequented by her brothers, her nieces and nephews. To these children, Jane and Cassandra were loving aunts and Jane who was also an accomplished pianist would play songs for them. A daily routine was incomplete without hearty family meals, long walks and chatting and sewing in the evening. Jane’s favourite spot was the alcove in the ladies’ drawing room where she would often sit and see the village life go by.
Whilst Jane’s mother and sister were buried in the nearby Church; Jane who died at the age of 41 was buried at Winchester Cathedral.
Surprisingly, there is very little history about Jane’s life and particularly her tryst with Hampshire but every devotee who takes this Jane pilgrim is humbled by her simple life but then that’s how life should be—simple yet fruitful—isn’t it?
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