Painting & Poetry: March

In the final month of their residency, Léna and Ellora looked to the House itself for inspiration. Ellora created poems that explore both Cassandra's experience of living in the House after Jane's death, and her own experience of leading tours of the House today. Léna's artwork takes a playful look at the House as a space for children.

Ellora: One of my favourite parts of the house is the beautiful garden – the gorgeous old yew trees, that when I walk under them I think ‘wow I’m in the same shade as Jane Austen’, and the beautiful Blush Noisette roses that veil the side of the house.

For this poem, I was thinking about Cassandra, how hard it must have been for her to carry on living in Chawton Cottage for several decades without her beloved sister.

   Cassandra

   how briefly massive things are
   in their moment of total collapse

   grief is a house falling apart.
   the lonely bone of a sister

   trying to suture it back together
   with pale veins of climbing roses

   watching them bloom into the
   silvery silent mouths of ghosts

   the yews don’t know or care to know
   they just continue to swallow the sun

   and still you knew, Cassandra –
   there was so much to be done

Ellora: Jane Austen’s House is a very special place for me – I first visited when I was fifteen, and have been working with visitors here for the past three years, so it almost feels like a second home! I am very interested in ideas of psychogeography, how the same place can mean different things to different people, the personal maps that we all carry in our heads and hearts.

This poem is my attempt to map Jane Austen’s House. I scrawled and free-wrote an imaginary trip around the House, and then pared it right back, editing it into cinquains – five-line verses with a syllabic pattern of 2/4/6/8/2. I think this tight, constricted form is a fun way of representing the confines of a museum display case on the page. So it’s supposed to be a bit like a walk around Jane Austen’s House as it appears in my memories, e.g. the “blue garden of missing buds” refers to the beautiful Apprentice Trellis wallpaper upstairs in the Family Room. It’s a love letter to my favourite place, and I really hope that I can go around it in person again soon.

   Personal Tour

   Courtyard.
   Can you feel it?
   Sun and noise and donkeys.
   Bakehouse. Bread. Boiling. Brewing. How
   many

   burns? Small
   miracles of
   vegetables and beehives.
   The genteel pink bodies of pigs,
   salted.

   Fireplace,
   open ear, hot
   belly full of embers.
   Clementi, such a pretty word.
   Knuckles

   cracking,
   door opening.
   The delivery room,
   arsenic green. Table size of a
   held breath.

   Here. Here.
   Pause on the steps.
   Sun. Face touching face. Breathe.
   How many late nights? How many
   candles?

   Window.
   Watercolour.
   Floorboards whisper, shrug, shush.
   The blue garden of missing buds.
   Faces.

   Silver
   dancing slippers,
   fish caught leaping midstream.
   Oak. Oceans. Topaz, turquoise, gold
   ring, glimpse

   the thin
   finger behind
   the feather, the needle.
   Quilt. Individual stitches. A
   lady.

Léna: For this month, Ellora and I spoke about the House itself, and children, so I started thinking about making the House into a doll’s house, where the front wall is “open” to show the inside. I played with a few ideas, either having children playing with the House, maybe with dolls that look like Jane Austen’s characters, or putting the children inside the House, and making them into the nephews and nieces that came to stay.

In the end I turned the whole House into a plaything for children. I studied photographs of the House, and the virtual tour, and tried to put in as many details as I could. I worked on it at my mom’s house, who is a child-minder, so some children actually helped me to draw it!

I started with a rough sketch…

This video shows the process, building up layers of colour…

…and here is the final artwork!

©Lena Gibert

Signing Off

In the last three months, Léna and Ellora have created some extraordinary new works, responding to Jane Austen’s House, life and legacy. Along the way they have inspired us, made us laugh, think and cry! They have been a wonderful pair of Creatives in Residence, kicking off our year of Painting and Poetry with zeal, flair and talent. We can’t thank them enough!

Léna: This residency at Jane Austen’s House was a very special moment for me. When I was young, in south of France, no one around me knew Jane Austen except my grandma, and she was passionate about it. She gave me my first copy of Pride & Prejudice, and that’s how my connection to this delightful universe started. My friends and I sewed ourselves some gowns and clumsily made some bonnets and we would re-enact the scenes and invent some ballroom dances.

I never imagined that I would ever stumble upon the opportunity to work for Jane Austen’s House and, in my own way, participate in spreading the joy of her words and stories! I felt really welcomed and encouraged by everyone there, and despite the distance, this has been a really meaningful experience in my artistic journey and in my personal life!

Ellora: Being a creative in (virtual) residence at Jane Austen’s House has been a wonderful experience! It has given me the space to explore my favourite author in ways that I haven’t before, and the platform to share my love of Jane worldwide. And that’s what makes Jane Austen’s House so very special. People come from all over the world to this one tiny village in Hampshire and, for an hour or two, are all united over their love of Jane Austen. It is overwhelming to think of. I am so grateful for the generosity of everyone at Jane Austen’s House for taking me on this remarkable journey, and for allowing me to write so authentically about what Jane Austen means to me. I would like to sign off with my favourite Jane Austen quote, from Sense and Sensibility: “Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience – or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope.”

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