Saturday, July 26, 2014

My Jane Austen Pilgrimmage

The Assembly Rooms, where
Jane Austen once danced, now
host the Fashion Museum.
An anachronistic afternoon tea at the
Jane Austen Centre, under the
supercilious gaze of Mr. Darcy.
On our last overseas trip, my husband and I visited the UK.  I talked him into spending a few days in Bath, so I might visit some of the places that Jane Austen frequented and better imagine her life and times. Although Jane did not enjoy her later years living in Bath, after her family's circumstances were much reduced, she did enjoy her early visits there.

That innocent joy is communicated in her early novel Northanger Abbey (and her later discomfort with Bath can be felt when one reads Persuasion).
While her father still lived, Jane's family
enjoyed rooms in one of these
middle-class townhouses on Sydney Place.
Now a peaceful park, Sydney Gardens
hosted concerts and fireworks in Jane's
day, much like Vauxhall in London.

After Bath, we visited Winchester, Jane's final resting place. The cathedral is lovely and peaceful. It is not as overwhelmingly grand as those of Canterbury and York. Winchester's declining importance during the High Middle Ages means that it wasn't completely refurbished. Part of the old Norman cathedral (with its Romanesque arches and 12th-century frescoes) is still extant. Its crypt has always been empty of tombs and chapels, since it has always been prone to flooding (the cathedral was deliberately built over a holy well, which sits directly under the altar).
Jane's austere tomb, in the Cathedral floor.

The church has a warm, lived-in feel that I cannot quite describe. While other great historic churches fill the pilgrim with a sense of awe, Winchester Cathedral filled me with a sense of welcome. It also has a magnificent library upstairs (where sections of the famous Winchester Bible can be seen). Although Westminster Abbey is a more prestigious place for authors to be interred, I think Winchester Cathedral is a better choice.
This brass plaque on the wall and a memorial
stained glass window were added later in the
19th century, after Jane's fame had grown.

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