Chawton Cottage July 2020The Cottage today stands empty. Months ago, the bustle and the business of 1809, of moving into a new home, was reversed when we removed its precious collections into safe storage. Now the rooms are shaded and silent; no floorboards creak under visitors’ feet; no eyes search out favourite objects, or marvel at the tiny writing table. No one can now peep in through windows to see life inside.
The rooms are dark and shuttered; our treasures, the relics of an extraordinary life, are packed away and the house is still, probably stiller than it has ever been in all its long history. This cottage has always seen a glorious bustle of life, whether that is through the daily activities of those who have called it home, or its many visitors. Today there are no lively discussions of books by the Drawing Room fireplace, no footsteps on the stairs, and even Jane’s famously squeaky door is quiet. The garden has bloomed and the heady scent of roses has filled the air throughout lockdown. Jane would have envied the quiet, especially in the first weeks, when even the busy road to Winchester was empty, and all that could be heard was birdsong. I suspect that she might have rather missed the stagecoach rattling past the windows though, and would Emma be the same novel if she hadn’t sat at the Dining Room window, observing all that went on in the village of Chawton.
Why does Jane Austen’s House matter when we have her books?
Literary houses are special places and visitors have been coming to Chawton for well over a hundred years, long before the Cottage was reclaimed and refurnished as Jane Austen’s home. To visit is to be a reader in another dimension. Whether we visit from near or far, we do so to find ourselves inside the spaces that she filled; to see what she saw. We discover objects that speak to us—much as, in reading, we find ourselves inside her books. A writer’s house distils her very self; it is biography in brick and stone; it is objects which live again under our gaze.
We will be back and we cannot wait to welcome you back to Jane’s special home.