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Friday, April 15, 2016

The Highlights of "Emma 200: From English Village to Global Appeal" at Chawton House Library

A few weeks ago, I visited Chawton House Library to view the fascinating exhibition, "Emma 200: From English Village to Global Appeal", that commemorates the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen's Emma. Emma 200 is the first major exhibition held by the library and a must-visit for any admirer of Jane Austen's literature. 

As I had my little children with me, I was only able to have a brief glimpse of the exhibits, but I would certainly love to go back and peruse the items in more detail. In this post, I will share some of the things that captured my attention, along with some (very poor) images taken by my mobile camera.  I do apologise for the picture quality, but feel I should share some images rather than upload a blank post. For a more detailed review of the exhibition, you could have a look at the Review by the British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies.

As you enter the exhibition, the first things on display were a first edition of Emma, alongside a French and an American edition from 1816. Wouldn't I just love to get hold of one of these and have an original experience of reading Emma. I can just imagine how fragile these books must be when you are browsing through them.

The exhibition also features a number of newer editions of Emma - an interesting collection of adaptations of Emma from popular culture. Now these are editions that I am far more familiar with, as you would find several of these in my bookshelf! Most recently, I have read Alexander McCall Smith's modern re-telling of Emma (top row, second on the left), and have enjoyed watching all the film adaptations and their companions, too.

One of the highlights of the exhibition for me would have to be Maria Edgeworth's silver inkstand and letter.

Edgeworth was one of the most popular women authors of her time and one of Jane Austen's favourite writers, a real source of inspiration for her from early on. In 1816, Jane Austen sent a presentation copy of her novel before its publication to Edgeworth, but unfortunately, the recipient wasn't impressed by it. The letter below, written by Edgeworth, reads 

"There is no story in it, except that Miss Emma found that the man whom she designed for Harriet's lover was an admirer of her own—& he was affronted at being refused by Emma & Harriet wore the willow—and smooth, thin water-gruel is according to Emma's father's opinion a very good thing & it is very difficult to make a cook understand what you mean by smooth, thin water-gruel."
Edgeworth did not even acknowledge or thank Jane Austen for the copy of her book.

In this more famous letter, from Charlotte Bronte to her publisher's literary advisor, Williams, in 1850,  Bronte criticises Jane Austen in the following way:

"I have likewise read one of Miss Austen’s works, “Emma”- read it with interest and just the degree of admiration which Mis Austen herself would ache thought sensible and suitable- anything like warmth or enthusiasm; anything energetic, poignant, heart-felt is utterly out of place in commending these works: all such demonstration the authoress would ache met with a well-bred sneer, would have clammy scorned as outr√© and extravagant. She does her business of delineating  peole seriously well; there is a Chinese fidelity , a miniature delicacy in the painting: she ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound: the Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood; even to the Feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasionally graceful but distant recognition; too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress. Her business is not half so much with the human heart as with the human eyes, mouth, hands and feet; what sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study, but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through, what is the unseen seat of Life and the sentient target of Death- this Miss Austen ignores; she no more, with her mind’s eye, beholds the heart of her race than each man, with bodily vision sees the heart in his heaving breast. Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete, and rather insensible ( not senseless) woman; if this is heresy- I cannot help it.If I said it to some people(Lewes form instance) they would directly accuse me of advocating exaggerated heroics,but I not afraid of you falling into any such vulgar error."

Jane Austen was keen to collect opinions on her books, and religiously noted them down in her notebook. Thankfully, Jane Austen was blissfully unaware of these criticisms. 

Sir Walter Scott's review of Emma (below) in The Quarterly Review was more favourable. In his opinion, Jane Austen was an original writer, and Emma represented an entirely new, realistic style of fiction that he admired.

The exhibition also features a copy of the Lady's Magazine, a hugely popular magazine from 1811, which catered to ladies of the gentry. Jane Austen is pretty sure to have read the periodical and I would love to have a browse through it. We will learn more about the magazine through this fascinating research project undertaken by the University of Kent.

The magazine was important for female authors like Jane Austen, as periodicals were the main channel through which ladies could publish their essays and stories and gain publicity in the literary circles. This would, in turn, enhance their chances of getting published by the likes of John Murray (whose correspondence is also displayed at the exhibition).

The Ladies' Magazine also featured topics relevant to women at the time, such as fashion, poetry and needlework, and featured patterns for embroidery. 10 of these patterns were recreated in an international stitch-off project and the results are on display in the Oak Room. The designs are beautiful and intricate and reminded me of the embroidery (possibly made by Jane Austen) on her tiny glasses case on display in Basingstoke.

What a fascinating exhibition! I would definitely urge any admirers of Jane Austen's literature to visit the exhibition and get an interesting glimpse into the literary life of the early 19th Century. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Finally at Chawton House!

Whenever I visit Chawton Cottage, I feel like I have stepped back in time for a day. It felt exactly like that when I visited Chawton House Library or, "Chawton Great House", as it used to be called. I believe that the house still looks very much as it did in Jane Austen's times, although it is an even older building, dating back to the Elizabethan times. 

I have tried visiting Chawton House a few times before, but never managed to be there at the right time. I was so pleased to gain entry and to have a thorough look through the house. I was able to take some photos of the house, but I do apologise for the quality of the photos, as I only had my mobile phone camera on me. 

The manor was owned by Jane Austen's brother, Edward Austen-Knight, who lent it out to gentlemen tenants but also spent a great deal of time here himself . He divided his time between his two estates, Godmersham in Kent and Chawton, and thanks to his position as a wealthy landowner in Chawton he was able to provide a home for his mother and sisters in Chawton. Jane Austen was obviously very familiar with Chawton House and visited there regularly for dinners. 

These days, the manor serves as the Centre for the Study of Early Women's Writing from 1600 to 1830. The centre houses a vast collection of early women's writing, open to the benefit of scholars from across the world. There was an exhibition on, called Emma 200, dedicated to the 200 years since the publication of Jane Austen's Emma. It was a fascinating exhibition and I had a brief look through - I will share some photos soon. 

The house was built in 1580 by John Knight, an ancestor of Thomas Knight (picture below), who adopted Edward Austen and made him his heir. 

  Jane Knight, wife of Thomas Knight.
 These coats of arms show all the proprieters of the estate - the Knights.

Interestingly, Edward's coat of arms has a small red square at the top left, indicating that he was not a real "Knight" but was given the name through his adoption, and all his descendants have the same symbol in their coats of arms, too. 

As you enter the house, you come through to the Great Hall on your left. It is an impressive room and has retained its original Elizabethan wooden panelling. 

Dark panelled hallways take you from one room to another. 

In this dining room, you can imagine Jane Austen enjoying lengthy dinners with her family whenever Edward was in Chawton.

In the dining room, there is a portrait of Edward Austen-Knight, made during his Grand Tour of Europe. 

There is also a touching memento, a well-preserved jacket on display, which used to belong to Edward Austen when he was a young boy. It is easy to believe that the jacket belonged to him, as the jacket is very similar in style to the one in the portrait, with a similar cut and equally large buttons.

There were also several other familiar images of the family members on the walls, including that of Elizabeth Austen, Edward's wife (sorry about the poor picture quality). 

This is an image of Edward Austen Knight's Godmersham estate. 

The view from the dining room window. 

As you go upstairs, there are some beautiful heavy tapestries and some original William Morris wallpaper that was discovered during the restoration of the building in the nineties. 

I loved the Library, an intriguing place where you could imagine the gentlemen sitting down, writing letters and having a drink. 

The library is full of good novels and even a secret cupboard, perhaps used as a bar?

There are some beautiful windowsills upstairs that call out for a little rest and a look at the lovely views of the surrounding countryside. 

This old printing press is fascinating. It takes a relatively small machine to produce tons of books. 

During his time in Chawton, Edward Austen had a servants' passage built downstairs for privacy and safety. 

The passage takes you to the old kitchen, which has retained its old stone flooring and an 18th century worktable, although the range was acquired in the Victorian times. 

Behind the kitchen, there is a scullery, which now houses a bookshop. There are two original sinks in the room, which would supply water from a nearby well.

Here is a view out to the inner courtyard...

...and out to the garden. 

There is a Regency walled garden, designed in the style adopted by Edward Austen after the death of Jane Austen. However, I did not have the time to have a closer look at the gardens - something has to be left for next time! I enjoyed the views over the beautiful Hampshire countryside that surrounds the Great House.