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Friday, July 31, 2020

A Walk Around Chawton House Garden "was a sweet view — sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive."

I was delighted to find that the Chawton House Gardens had opened again after a long period of lockdown. It's so lovely to walk around the gardens in the footsteps of Jane Austen, as she must have spent many a happy summer's day strolling around her brother's garden, and there are so many mentions to gardens in her novels. In Edward Austen's estate, Jane found plenty of comfort, and she must have enjoyed the serenity and beauty of this landscape. 

I started my walk from the South Lawn, where I sat down to have my picnic, admiring the green, lush views towards Chawton House. In the early Georgian times, there were formal gardens here, but during the period 1763-1780, these were replaced by parkland in the style of Capability Brown, whose landscaping has become a trademark of 18th century gardens. His style, although carefully designed and executed, leaned towards a more natural style that looked almost untouched. 

From the South Lawn I walked through to the Upper Terrace, which wasn't there during Jane Austen's times. This terrace was built in ca 1901 by Edward Austen Knight's grandson, Montagu, who revolutionised much of the estate and took excellent care of it, and also built a 'Library Terrace' near the house. 

I walked down the path to Edward Austen Knight's walled garden. I love a walled garden, as it reminds me of Frances Hodgson Burnett's "Secret Garden", a story which I loved as a child. 

At the end of the 19th century, Montagu Knight divided this garden into two, and created a rose garden in the first half of the garden. 

The second half of the garden is a wonderful mismatch of colourful flowers, vegetables and herbs - just like Jane Austen would have known it. 

There is a lovely trail around the gardens, with quotes from Jane Austen's books, which reminded me of her wit and cheeky personality. In one of her letters from 1816, Jane Austen mentions that it was difficult for her to write, as she had her "head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb". Obviously she needed to be free of mundane things, such as housework, to be able to concentrate on her work. 

Herb gardens were used extensively to treat various kinds of ailments and to create natural beauty products. This herb garden is inspired by Elizabeth Blackwell's book, "A Curious Herbal", from the Chawton House early women's literature collection. 

Each quadrant contains ten plants that are curative for a particular body part: head beds, chest beds, digestion beds and skin beds. Seems logical to me - if you had a complaint, you could just head over to that particular part of your garden and get a treatment.  

Apple orchards are always such a treat, and I'm pleased to know that Jane Austen was fond of the fruit. 

The Austen ladies had apple trees in their own garden, as well as berries. 

Jane was no stranger to strawberries either. In 1816, she wrote to Cassandra, "Yesterday I had the agreeable surprise of finding several scarlet strawberries quite ripe; had you been at home, this would have been a pleasure lost. There are more gooseberries and fewer currants than I thought at first." I am assuming that these berries grew in their own kitchen garden at Chawton Cottage. 

I also enjoyed the rose walk at the end of the walled garden. 

I then walked out of the walled garden towards the shrubbery. 

A shrubbery was a route where the ladies of the house could take their exercise, when the weather permitted. 

Shrubberies seem to occur often in Jane Austen's writings, as Kim Wilson discussed in her talk "Love in the Shrubbery" as part of the Chawton House Virtual Garden Festival. In fact, a shrubbery is mentioned in each of her novels. Jane Austen's characters often meet up in a shrubbery to get away from others, or to reflect in a safe space. 

Admiring the serene fields, I then walked towards what was known as a "wilderness". 

A common feature in an English Landscape garden in the 18th century, a wilderness was a wooded area that would appear natural but was actually carefully and deliberately designed. It was fashionable to have a wilderness in one's garden and there is a reference to a wilderness in Pride and Prejudice. Lady Catherine wants to find out if Elizabeth and Mr Darcy are engaged, and asks  Elizabeth, "Miss Bennet, there seemed to be a prettyish kind of a little wilderness at the side of your lawn. I should be glad to take a turn in it". 

An avenue of lime trees lead me back towards Chawton House. This didn't exist at the time of Jane Austen, as it was planted by Montagu Knight. Lime trees were common, though, and in Emma, Jane describes the Donwell Abbey grounds as follows: 
"It was hot; and after walking some time over the gardens in a scattered, dispersed way, scarcely any three together, they insensibly followed one another to the delicious shade of a broad short avenue of limes, which stretching beyond the garden at an equal distance from the river, seemed the finish of the pleasure grounds."

The last, but not the least important feature of the garden, was the Ha-Ha. A sunken fence, these were a typical feature of an 18th century garden, preventing the sheep or other livestock from entering the gardens and coming too close to the house. They also had some symbolic significance in Jane Austen's novels, symbolising hidden authority or the entrance into vice. In Mansfield Park, Fanny Price decides to stay back, while she watches Maria Bertram cross the ha-ha with Henry Crawford, leaving her behind. In the scene, Austen discusses the moral dilemma in a symbolic way, contrasting virtue and vice, stability and risk. 

Back to the South Lawn, I thought, as Emma did as she enjoyed the beautiful grounds of Donwell Abbey, "It was a sweet view — sweet to the eye and the mind. English verdure, English culture, English comfort, seen under a sun bright, without being oppressive."

I thought I would finish this scribble with a quote from Jane Austen's letter to Cassandra that never fails to amuse me. 

References and further reading 

Friday, July 17, 2020

Death Comes to Pemberley and A Fan Moment With Matthew Goode

I've never been much into fan fiction or sequels of Jane Austen, thinking that I didn't want to mess around with my idea of Jane Austen's writing. I was pleasantly surprised when, finding "Death Comes to Pemberley" on Amazon Prime, I actually really enjoyed this mini-series. 

Death Comes to Pemberley is based on a novel by crime novelist P. D. James. I haven't read the novel yet, so I am not in the position to assess whether it is a good adaptation of James' novel, but I enjoyed it as a sequel to Jane Austen's work. I was impressed by the acting and thought the storyline was very captivating and credible. I was intrigued until the very end to find out who the murderer was. The series had all the essential elements of Pride and Prejudice woven into the screenplay, and the characters were recognisable. It resonated Jane Austen's wit, and I think that she herself would have enjoyed the story, given the fact that her juvenilia was full of stories like this and she may well have been amused by the twists to her story. 

Image from Wikipedia:

I also loved seeing Matthew Goode cast as Wickham in this adaptation. I was smitten by Matthew Goode in Downton Abbey, a series which I really enjoyed, and I thought he made a great dashing villain in Death Comes to Pemberley as well. 

To my great surprise, I had the good luck of bumping into the said gentleman as I was visiting Oxford a couple of years ago. I was at the Bodleian Library with my family and I was quite shocked as I walked right up to him at a doorway to the library courtyard, and there he was, right in front of me, staring at me straight in the face. I immediately recognised him and thought that he was even more dashing in real life! He was incredibly handsome, in a Bond-like manner, dressed in a slim black suit - this reminded me of him as Henry Talbot in Downton Abbey. 

I was too embarrassed to ask for a photo, and I was mortified when my husband teasingly said that I'd love a photo with him, but Matthew was a perfect gentleman and happily obliged! He told me that he was shooting a Netflix series at the Bodleian (I later found out that they were shooting "A Discovery of Witches" - not my type of genre but perhaps some of you have seen it?). What a shy fangirl moment that was!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Chawton House Lockdown Literary Festival and Interesting Literary Connections

This weekend I was pleased to discover the Chawton House Lockdown Literary Literary Festival. While my home life during lockdown keeps me very busy, I managed to squeeze in some time to watch a speech by Devoney Looser, Professor of English at Arizona State University and author of "The Making of Jane Austen". Professor Looser is an expert in early women's literature.

Her speech was very eye-opening and I would love to share some of the things I learnt from her today.
Did you know that

-During Jane Austen's lifetime, there was an almost equal number of male and female writers? This fact surprised me, as I had assumed the profession to be far more common amongst men, thinking that it was considered more acceptable for men to become authors. There were hundreds of other active women writers and, in fact, women were far more prolific fiction writers than men.

-Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility was likely to have been influenced by the writing of Jane West, a household name who was probably the most famous female writer at the time. Jane West wrote "A Gossip's Story", featuring two sisters, one of whom was more rational and the other more emotional, just like Elinor and Marianne - in fact, the more emotional of the two sisters was named Marianne. It would be fascinating to read "The Gossip's Story" and compare the two. Later on, Jane West rewrote Jane Austen's Emma in "Ringrove", which is another piece of writing that I would be keen to explore.

-A contemporary of Jane Austen and a well-known writer, Jane Porter, was born in the same year as Jane (1775). Jane Austen was approached by the Prince Regent's librarian, James Stanier Clarke, to write a historical romance dedicated to Prince Leopold. She never endeavoured to do this, famously saying that she preferred writing about things she knew well. However, Jane Porter took a similar offer eight years later, perhaps in the hope of royal pension, and wrote "Duke Christian of Luneburg".
Interesting literary connections and I can't wait to learn more!

Sunday, March 8, 2020

On Location in Lacock

Last Mother's Day (wow, it has taken me a year to write this post!) I was taken to Lacock in Wiltshire for a treat. I am a big fan of the National Trust, and I had wanted to visit Lacock for a long time, as it is one of the most famous film locations for several period dramas - most interestingly, the location for Meryton in Pride and Prejudice (1995) and Highbury in my favourite adaptation of Emma (1996 with Kate Beckinsale) - not to forget Downton Abbey. 

Stepping into Lacock is like stepping back in time. Lacock Abbey dates back to 1232, and the village houses are several centuries old. You can easily imagine why production companies might choose this as a location, as the village has changed very little over the centuries, there is not a satellite dish in sight (those are banned by the National Trust), and the only thing to remind us of our modern times is the cars parked on the side of the road. 

Lacock is, however, a working village with a school, village hall, church, quaint boutiques and several pubs, but walking the roads truly feels like walking through a film set. 

The High Street was used as a location for the Meryton high street. The exterior of the Red Lion pub on your left was used as a location for Meryton Assembly Rooms in P & P where Sir Lucas' country ball was held. Don't you love all those vintage cars parked outside? 

The High Street was also seen as shops in Pride and Prejudice, such as the haberdasher's shop where the Bennet sisters stopped to look at bonnets until they were interrupted by Mr Wickham (and a cold greeting from Mr Darcy). 

Another street, Church Street, served as the high street of Highbury in Emma. 

St Cyriac's Church was where the Westons'  wedding was shot at the beginning of Emma and perhaps some of the other wedding scenes as well (who recognises the church?)

I enjoyed reading "The Making of Jane Austen's Emma", which was a companion for the 1996 film. In the book, there are interesting stories about the production in Lacock. We learn that the company had just three days to film the Lacock scenes, as it was a busy time in the village and the National Trust didn't wish to have filming during the weekends, which are their busiest time with tourists flocking the village. 

It was fascinating to read about how the village was transformed from 1996 to 1813. Ground cover was laid, earth and grit spread around the roads, autumn leaves and manure scattered around the floor, straw for horses left in places... 

Some of the facades, for example Miss Bates' house, were changed entirely, and signs were changed to period ones, film lights added in front of windows and cars moved from the roads. Even the existing flowers were swapped with more period-appropriate ones. 

Some of you might recognise this house as being Harry Potter's first home. 

Harry Potter's Hogwart's school was shot in Lacock Abbey cloisters. This was also used as a location for Cambridge University, where Mr Darcy studied as a young man with Mr Wickham. We visited Lacock Abbey as well, which is an interesting building in itself, but the cloisters were closed at the time as there was a film crew working on a series. 

There are stalls and shops selling various Harry Potter related paraphernalia around the village, catering to the flocks of tourists that visit the village. I loved it how there were many stalls (as below) in front of people's houses, selling crafts and preserves with an honesty box and not a salesman in sight. Obviously, being a National Trust village, there is a feeling of trust that people will behave sensibly and be kind to the locals. 

All in all, Lacock is a wonderful place to visit and I would recommend a day trip there with a visit to the Abbey, one of the lovely ancient pubs, and the quaint gift shops that line the streets of Lacock, spotting familiar film locations on the way. 

You can get more information on Lacock and several other film locations in Karin Quint's guidebook and do have a look at the film companions for some interesting snippets. 

Further reading: 

Birtwistle, S. & Conklin, S. (1996) The Making of Jane Austen's Emma. Penguin Books. 
Birtwistle, S. & Conklin, S. (1995) The Making of Pride and Prejudice. Penguin Books. 
Quint, Karin. (2019 Jane Austen's England - A Travel Guide. ACC Art Books. 

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Austenised is on Facebook!

Dear readers,

I'm excited to announce that Austenised is finally up on Facebook! I thought it was about time to bring the blog to the modern world of social media - I opened a page for Austenised, where I will be uploading my newest posts and any other interesting things to do with Jane Austen that I come across. This will allow me to connect better with other Janeites but also share photos and articles that do not make up a full blog post but are worth sharing. So please do like, share and follow my new Facebook page and I look forward to reading your comments there, too!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

My Thoughts on Emma (2020): Not "badly done"!

Emma poster.jpeg

I thought I should voice an opinion on the newest adaption of Emma (2020), which came out last week. I was really excited to see the film, but equally daunted by the possibility of the film proving to be an utter disappointment like Sanditon, which I never bothered to review after the first episode, which ended any similarity to Jane Austen. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised, although it is hard for me not to compare it to my favourite version of Emma (1996 with Kate Beckinsale).

Emma (2020) was directed by (the beautifully named) Autumn de Wilde, this being her directorial debut (she is better known for music videos and portraiture), and written by novelist Eleanor Catton. De Wilde's Emma is an entertaining and gorgeous take on the novel, with lavish pastel coloured sets and hilarious performances by well-known, popular actors, such as Bill Nighy and Miranda Hart. Last year, Andrew Davies mostly left out the comedy in Sanditon, so essential to Jane Austen's style of writing, but de Wilde's Emma has comedy in abundance, sure to entertain a wider general audience. 

I was delighted *finally* to see costumes so true to the period, with light muslins, sheer fabrics and lots of white (indeed, "a woman can never be too fine while she is all in white" -  Edmund Bertram -Mansfield Park). No hair flowing down the shoulders (à la the hideous Billie Piper in Emma and Charlotte in Sanditon). No strangely low waistlines (à la Pride and Prejudice 2005), no modern looking fabrics (several adaptations). Curator's Curio has written a great comprehensive analysis of the costume in this film. The sets, albeit beautiful, do seem a tad too elaborate, with numerous high towers of cakes, excessive floral arrangements etc. The beautiful sets probably reflect de Wilde's artistic background and her sense of the aesthetic, but are perhaps a little too "art for art's sake" to be realistic. 

Now to Emma, our feisty, independent "heroine whom no one but myself will much like" (Jane Austen). I feel that the film beautifully captures the spirit of Emma, Anya Taylor-Joy portraying her well; it helps that she is almost the same age and has Emma's captivating hazel eyes, which first haunted me in the period piece, "The Miniaturist". 

The chemistry between her and Mr Knightley (Johnny Flynn) is strong, and Johnny Flynn does the role beautifully (as he did in Vanity Fair). However, I would have to agree with many others in that (while Flynn, at 36, is almost the same age as Mr Knightley, 37) he does look too young to be Mr Knightley. I find that the age gap between Emma and Mr Knightley is one of the central themes in the book; after all, he is like the older brother for Emma, being 16 years older than her; being an older family friend, he feels moral responsibility over Emma. The age gap, which is therefore of some significance, does not really show in this film - unlike in 1996, where Mark Strong made a much more credible Knightley.  

I enjoyed watching Josh O'Connor (who I thought was brilliant in the Durrells) as a hilarious, off-putting Mr Elton, and Miranda Hart as the annoying spinster, Miss Bates, although (me being finicky) I didn't imagine her to be as tall as the stately Miranda Hart! Bill Nighy makes a great hypochondriac Mr Woodhouse; however, I could have done without his usual snorting. 

The dialogue does not appear to follow the book word to word, but the script does stay faithful to the original plot for the most part and, to my relief, the style of speech and manners appear contemporary to Jane Austen (unlike in Sanditon, which took many liberties to suit a more modern audience). The intriguing word game scene at Box Hill has been left out, and there are a couple of scenes at the end, which differ from the original: 1) when Emma goes to the Martins' farm and apologises to Mr Martin, and 2) a (horrendous) proposal scene (with bodily fluids involved, no spoilers however!). I would have liked to have seen a more romantic proposal faithful to the style of Jane Austen. 

Also, there seems to be a general trend these days to add nudity in Jane Austen wherever possible, and this film makes no exception. The very first scene where we meet Mr Knightley, we get a view of him stark naked from behind and, while I am no prude, I thought it was unnecessary. Fortunately, de Wilde does not venture further with the nudity and we do not see Emma catching a glimpse of a naked Mr Knightley, which would have suited Andrew Davies very well.  

Overall, I felt that Emma has been skilfully made and has clearly been created with a wider audience in mind, with some great comedy elements and an impeccable style. I would love to see it once again to get a better feel of the film and to enjoy those costumes once more.  

Sunday, October 13, 2019

A Tour of Southampton with "Happy Feelings of Escape"

My blog seems to be turning into a travel blog of sorts, as somehow these days I tend to get inspired by my travels across Jane Austen country now that I live surrounded by it. I continue to be fascinated by the life of this strong female figure that lived 200 years before my time and faced very different kinds of challenges throughout her life, but who, despite all odds, managed to produce literary works that have inspired and impacted on so many people after her time.

Besides the exciting events at the Jane Austen Festival last month, my most recent exploration was a spontaneous day trip to Southampton, where Jane Austen lived for a couple of years. Jane liked Southampton, which was a lively town, but as a country girl, she never considered it her home, although she did prefer it to Bath, having "happy feelings of escape" as they left Bath for Southampton. 

The Southampton of today is a mismatch of the old and new, considering that most of the old architecture was sadly destroyed in World War II. Sadly, very few buildings exist from Jane Austen's days, and the Old Town is very quickly gone through. However, with a good guide or walking tour in hand, it was very interesting to explore the streets of the Old Town and the places where Jane Austen might have visited during her time there.

I used Jane Austen's Hampshire (by Terry Townsend) and In the Steps of Jane Austen (By Anne-Marie Edwards) as my guide, and I would also recommend you read the detailed blog post by Tony Grant who has described the area with the insight of a local.

Jane Austen first stayed in Southampton in 1783 at the age of 7-8 when she went to boarding school there, run by Mrs Ann Cawley, with her sister Cassandra and their cousin, Jane Cooper. I wrote about the Abbey School in Reading here and here where Jane attended before she was moved to Southampton. Southampton being a port and a place likely to harbour infectious diseases, Jane very nearly died as a result of a typhus outbreak and was forced to return home. Jane, Cassandra and Jane Cooper survived the fever, but her aunt caught the fever and sadly died a few days later. 

I started my tour from Bargate (above) in the High Street, which served as a gateway to medieval Southampton. Bargate was built by the Normans, dating back to the 12th Century, and is a structure quite unchanged throughout the times. The gateway, the ramparts and the city wall would have been very familiar to Jane Austen. 

City Wall with Arundel Tower on the left.

Jane Austen returned to the city at the age of 18 for a happier visit, staying with her cousin, Elizabeth, whose father was a sheriff in the city. 

High Street as it is now 

A picture of the High Street in the 19th Century (from the Tudor House Museum).

Jane attended a ball at the Dolphin Hotel in the High Street, which still functions as a hotel. The Dolphin has been the head inn of Southampton for centuries, first mentioned as an inn in 1506, although the present building dates back to the mid-1700's; the bow windows to the street are said to be the largest of their kind. 

You can visit the ballroom, which now functions as a meeting room and has been renamed "Jane Austen Suite". 

Jane wrote, "Our ball was rather more amusing than I expected...The room was tolerably full, and there were, perhaps, thirty couple of dancers....It was the same room in which we danced fifteen years ago. I thought it all over, and in spite of the same of being so much older, felt with thankfulness that I was quite as happy now as then. We paid an additional shilling for our tea, which we took as we chose in an adjoining and very comfortable room...You will not expect to hear that I was asked to dance, but I was."

Jane next stayed in Southampton after the death of her father in 1805, for two and a half years from 1806 to 1809. For Jane Austen, it was a relief to leave Bath and a comfort to find a home with her brother, Frank, and his wife, Mary Gibson, who was expecting their first baby. The ladies were accompanied by their friend, Martha Lloyd. 

The house would have been behind the wall, somewhere close to where the mock Tudor building now stands. This part of the wall used to house a vault in the medieval times. 

Walking the wall, looking out from Juniper Berry. 

The first rented lodgings were too costly and they soon moved to a house at 3 Castle Square, close to the ruins of a medieval castle and surrounded by the city walls. 

The house was located somewhere behind the city wall, at what is now known as Upper Bugle Street, close to the Juniper Berry pub. The architecture at the square is very modern. 

Two years before the Austens moved in, their landlord, The Marquis of Lansdown, built a Gothic fantasy castle somewhere close to the unsightly high-rise in the video; the castle was soon pulled down. Jane Austen describes the castle as a "fantastic edifice" and watched the Marchioness drive out in "a light phaeton drawn by six or eight ponies in graduated shades of brown". 

The gothic fantasy castle built by the Marquis of Lansdowne. 

This was a pleasant situation for the Austen ladies, as the country ladies at heart would have their own large garden which must have provided some solace from city fumes. Jane Austen planted flowers, fruit trees and currant and gooseberry bushes, and wrote "We hear that we are envied our house by many people and that the garden is the best in town". She also planted a syringa, as described in a poem by her favourite poet, Cowper - something that Jane and I have in common as I absolutely love a fragrant syringa. 

As you walk down Upper Bugle Street, you come across a small square with a lovely church and a famous building called Tudor House. Tudor House is now an interesting museum, which tells the story of the inhabitants of this area across the centuries, also describing life in Jane Austen's days. 

Wealthy artist, George Rogers, used to live in this part of the house in Jane Austen's times. 

The above photo shows the Georgian section of the house, painted in yellow, with the typical Georgian sash windows. Interestingly, behind Tudor House, you can see King John's Palace - the ruins of a fine stone house dating back to the Norman times (1300's), picture below. 

Such a fascinating museum with so many layers of history in one building!

Continuing down Bugle Street, there are a number of interesting period houses from different eras that Jane would have been familiar with. 

Making a small detour left  onto French Street, there is a medieval merchant's house (below).

Turning right to Westgate Street, you can see Westgate and the Tudor Merchant's Hall. Westgate led to the quay where the Pilgrim Fathers had started their journey in the Mayflower in 1620.

At the end of the street, you will see Wool House (now a pub), which interestingly served as a prison for French prisoners of war. 

Jane would probably have heard French spoken close to where she lived, and it is fascinating how close in proximity she was to the realities of war and the French Revolution. Despite having an in-depth understanding and knowledge of naval life, she has often been criticised for not touching politics or current issues in her fiction - however, it is quite understandable why she preferred letting "other pens dwell on grief and misery" and focus on what might be considered escapism. "I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can", she wrote - perhaps the realities of war and suffering were too close for comfort. 


Edwards, A-M. (1991). In the Steps of Jane Austen – Walking Tours of Austen’s England. Wisconsin: Jones Books.
Townsend, T. (2014) Jane Austen's Hampshire. Halsgrove.