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A novel visit with Jane Austen near London

I have always loved Jane Austen for the strength and wit of her female characters. In fact, I am slightly obsessed with everything Jane — ask my husband, who has had to endure repeated showings of the A&E version of Pride and Prejudice, starring Colin Firth.

My husband got dragged into the real thing recently, on a trip to Chawton Village, southwest of London, while we were in the United Kingdom. The author was born in Steventon, lived in Bath and Southampton, and spent considerable time in Kent. In particular, I wanted to visit Chawton Cottage, because that is where Jane spent her final years and wrote on a very famous and rather small writing table.

I was actually a little nervous — it wasn't as if I were going to meet Jane Austen, but I was about to meet a part of her.

The house was exactly the size I imagined; comfortable, but not small. There were the amber crosses that Charles Austen, Jane's seafaring brother, had given to her and her sister, Cassandra — famous to us Janeites. On the door leading to the staircase, a sign warned that it squeaked — and said Jane liked it that way so she could hide her manuscripts if she heard someone coming.

Then, there it was: Jane's writing table. I stood and stared, amazed that she could write a brilliant work like Persuasion on such a tiny table. It was beautiful to me. It looked so well-loved and well-used.

The BBC had loaned the museum costumes from a recent production of Sense and Sensibility, so we got to see them placed around the house, which was a nice treat. It was a lovely visit to the quiet village, but we headed back to London that afternoon, and I was satisfied to have accomplished one of my lifelong dreams.

.IF YOU GO

Chawton Village

It's an easy day trip from London; there are several bed and breakfasts nearby. Visit www.chawton.info.

Getting there: Take a train to Alton, the X64 bus route to Alton Butts, then walk about 2 miles into Chawton Village. The train from London takes an hour or so to get to Alton. A round-trip ticket costs $31.

The museum: Jane Austen's House Museum, Chawton, Alton, Hampshire GU34 1SD, www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk.

Admission is $12.

Eating: We ate at a pub in Alton, but Greyfriar's Pub and Cassandra's Tea Cup are both across the street from the museum. Greyfriar's serves food from noon to 2 p.m. and 7 to 9:30 p.m.; Cassandra's Tea Cup is open from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

What else to do: Check out Chawton Library, which is the estate that Jane's brother Edward inherited. Jane's sister and mother are buried in the churchyard. Chawton is a charming little village with thatch-roofed houses.

Jane and I

If you can't travel to the United Kingdom anytime soon, let Jane Austen take you there. My favorite books and movies:

>>The A&E version of Pride and Prejudice may be six hours long, but it's worth every minute. This version stays very close to the book, and how can you pass up Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy? Sigh . . .

>>Another favorite movie version is Persuasion, starring Ciran Hinds. Hinds is phenomenal as Capt. Wentworth in this charming rendition of Jane's last book.

>>If you prefer to read, try Sense and Sensibility, although the movie starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet isn't bad, or Mansfield Park.

Sarah Brubaker

A novel visit with Jane Austen near London 06/07/08 [Last modified: Saturday, June 7, 2008 4:30am]

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