Friday, May 1, 2009

England My England

It is mortifying to consider that I have been writing a novel set in England and had not actually been there for more than a decade, long before I had contemplated this project. Of course I am also writing a novel set in 1815, and I have not been there either, but there is less one can do about that. Last week I attempted to correct this oversight within the limits of my finances by flying to London. JA highlights:

A trip to the British Library, where Jane Austen's actual writing-desk, the one her father gave her when she was 19, is displayed under glass, along with part of the manuscript of "Persuasion,"and a bound version of "The History of England" with illustrations by Cassandra. (Wonderfully, the gallery has digitized this volume, and you can flip through it, magnify, and read a typed version of the handwritten work.

Chawton, home of the Jane Austen House Museum where JA lived from 1809 until shortly before her death in 1817. The graves of the two Cassandra Austens (sister and mother) are a short walk away in the yard of a beautiful old stone church, and the great house, still owned by descendants of Edward Knight, Jane's rich brother, can be glimpsed but not visited.

Winchester, where she sought medical care (in vain) and is buried in the cathedral.

Bath, setting of two novels and her home for about five years from 1800 to 1805. Also home to a Jane Austen museum, useful as an introduction if you don't actually know anything about Jane Austen, but not so much if you do. A visit to a museum of fashion history turned up a couple of circa-1815 dresses, but I was thwarted in my quest to learn more about Georgian underwear.

Bristol, not strictly JA-related, but home to a fascinating Georgian House Museum.

Hatchard's, booksellers since 1797, where I bought an interesting volume titled "The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England."

And, sort of on the topic, a very unusual museum about medical history.

I also took lots of pictures of Georgian houses, trying to imagine Rachel and Liam living in one, with sheep being driven through the streets instead of black taxicabs.