Tony Grant’s recent pictorial visit to Chawton was so popular that I thought you would like to see the village in which Jane Austen lived out the last years of her life. You might want to reference Tony’s images with the ones below, which were taken with Google maps. After I made these, I felt as if I had traveled to Hampshire for a pleasant hour or so. Interestingly, the seasons go back and forth, from late summer to early November. At times you will see full foliage and at other times the scene was shot in the middle of fall.
The following text comes from the 1901 travel book, Hampshire, With the Isle of Wight by George Albemarle Bertie Dewar, John Vaughan. Their description of Jane Austen shows how successfully her family had whitewashed her image as a sweet spinster in whose life not much had happened. I thought you might enjoy reading it as you viewed the rest of my virtual trip through Chawton.
A mile south of Alton is Chawton village. Jane Austen, the writer of the pure sweet stories which at the present time are loved better even than they were when Scott and Macaulay and Lewis sounded their praises, lived with her family at Chawton from 1809 to 1817.”
The house is still standing. Part of it has been made into a workman’s club, whilst the remainder is occupied by three families of working people, but it has been altered a good deal since her time. In the church there is a tablet to the memory of some members of the Austen family, Cassandra Elizabeth and her brothers. Jane Austen was quite a Hampshire woman.”
She was born at Steventon near Oakley in December 1775, and lived there till twenty-five years old. I went to see Steventon one day in the summer of 1899, and found it the sleepiest little spot one could imagine. The country is green and leafy, but the scenery is without distinction: there are no hills to speak of, no beautiful troutstreams, no fine old houses, no stately parks. The old parsonage where Jane Austen was born has gone, and there are no remains whatever of her or her family at Steventon.”
The spired church in which her father held service stands a little distance from the village at the edge of a hazel and oak coppice. It was in this quiet nook, seven or eight miles from the nearest town, that Jane Austen at twentyone years of age began to write that perfect story “Pride and Prejudice.” In 1797 she was at work on “Sense and Sensibility,” and in 1798 completed “Northanger Abbey.”
Where in the world did she get her knowledge of human nature—a knowledge so great that Macaulay was almost ready to extol her as the Shakespeare of her sex? What life could she have seen about Steventon a hundred years ago? In 1801 Jane went to Bath, and in 1805 to Southampton, where the family had rooms in Castle Street: in 1807, as we have seen, the Austens settled at Chawton, and four years after the story “Sense and Sensibility” was published, being followed by “Pride and Prejudice” and “Mansfield Park.”
In 1817 her health broke down and she removed to rooms in College Street, Winchester, and died there the same year. The memorials of Jane Austen are but few, and it is clear that her life was uneventful. It has been said that the woman without a history is the happier. The life of Jane Austen, like her death, was placid; there is here no record of harrowing anguish, or anxiety, such as we find in the story of that strong sufferer Mrs. Oliphant. Nor in the scant materials which have been left for a “life,” could the biographer find anything in the nature of a sad love-affair.”
Serenity is the word that best describes her career: and in this Jane Austen may remind one of Gilbert White, who was spending his happy days at Selborne when at Steventon, only about fifteen miles off as the crow flies, she was doing her French exercises and getting her first insight into the little world around her. She has given us a small but very choice portrait gallery of masterpieces. The irresistible Elizabeth, as easy to fall in love with as Scott’s Di Vernon, the alluring if sometimes rather irritating Emma, the worldly but very human Constance—they live and move to-day. You should read Jane Austen after one of the unwholesome, much-boomed, ephemeral novels of to-day, as Dean Stanley read his “Guy Mannering” to take the nasty taste out of his mouth. Jane Austen was buried in Winchester Cathedral, where she is to have at length a worthy memorial.”
Oh, those Victorians and their simplistic view of Jane Austen. Hope you enjoyed the 112 year old description of Jane’s life as well. In the image below you can see the short trip, which started on the Winchester Road (which started on the left, below A31), then turned left at Jane Austen’s house, and ended at Wolff’s Lane, which turns right and parallels with A31 at the top of the image. Alton would have been a mile up the street and NW of the cottage. Chawton House would have been too much of a walk for Mrs. Austen. I imagine that Edward must have sent his carriage to his mother and sisters when they came to visit.
View a contemporary watercolor of the village in this article by Joan Austen-Leigh, Chawton Cottage Transfigured