Room 1: A Star is (almost) Born

Object 1. A letter from Mrs Cassandra Austen to Mrs Walter, her sister-in-law, 20 August 1775  

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Like Laurence Sterne’s comical hero Tristram Shandy, the infant Jane announced her imminent arrival before she assumed perfect bodily form. We would expect nothing less.  Her honoured mother Mrs Austen writes:

‘Many thanks for your good wishes; we are all, I thank God, in good health, and I am more nimble and active than I was last time, expect to be confined some time in November.’

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As we know, of course, Jane was born on 16 December during a bitterly cold winter. The Revd George Austen sending news of the birth the following day to his sister wrote:

‘You have doubtless been for some time in expectation of hearing from Hampshire, and perhaps wondered a little we were in our old age grown such bad reckoners but so it was, for Cassey certainly expected to have been brought to bed a month ago: however last night the time came, and without a great deal of warning, everything was soon happily over. We have now another girl, a present plaything for her sister Cassy and a future companion. She is to be Jenny’.

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Object 2. Steventon Parsonage, birthplace and early shelter of our celebrated author

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Pencil drawing of Steventon Rectory from the side, by Ben Lefroy, who married Anna Austen in November 1814

‘The house itself stood in a shallow valley, surrounded by sloping meadows, well sprinkled with elm trees, at the end of a small village of cottages, each well provided with a garden, scattered about prettily on either side of the road. It was sufficiently commodious to hold pupils in addition to a growing family, and was in those times considered to be above the average of parsonages.’ (James Edward Austen-Leigh, A Memoir of Jane Austen, 1870)

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