As I was visiting the Isle of Wight for the first time with my family last week, I was surprised to discover a Jane Austen connection to the island. In fact, it turned out that the islanders were very proud of the fact that Jane Austen had visited the island and mentioned it in her letters and in her work.
"Dear mama, only think, my cousin cannot put the map of Europe together-- or my cousin cannot tell the principal rivers in Russia-- or, she never heard of Asia Minor--or she does not know the difference between water-colours and crayons!-- How strange!--Did you ever hear anything so stupid?"
"But, aunt, she is really so very ignorant!--Do you know, we asked her last night which way she would go to get to Ireland; and she said, she should cross to the Isle of Wight. She thinks of nothing but the Isle of Wight, and she calls it the Island, as if there were no other island in the world. I am sure I should have been ashamed of myself, if I had not known better long before I was so old as she is." (MP, Chapter 2)
Jane Austen wrote to her sister, Cassandra, from Chawton House on 7th June, 1813:
"Uncle H.A. and I in the curricle, Papa and At L. in the gig, set off at 8, Breakfasted at Petersfield, Dined and Saw the Dock Yard at Portsmouth, & took a wherry over to the Isle of Wight in the evening. We slept at Ride."
As we know, Jane Austen was very fond of natural beauty, which the Isle of Wight can certainly boast of. And she absolutely loved what she saw. Jane Austen mentioned visiting the famous landmark of the Needles, which I visited with my family. On 9th June, she wrote:
"We went on in the sociable to Newport, where we dined, & then went to Freshwater towards the Western Coast, & took a boat round the Needles point to Yarmouth where we slept".
Unfortunately, my photos from The Needles are hardly spectacular, as it happened to be a miserable, wet day during my visit and I didn't particularly enjoy the crowds.
I did enjoy our stay at Shanklin.
The highlight of my trip was visiting the magical Shanklin Chine, which equally impressed Jane Austen. On the 8th June, she wrote:
"We hired a sociable & drove around the Eastern and Southern coasts of the Island - saw the Priory a sweet place - Shanklin Chine, lovely!"
In Jane Austen's days, Shanklin Chine was a rough walk and very few people managed to make it to the waterfalls, and it wasn't until 1817 that the place really became an attraction - Victorians were full of praise of the place. I do wonder how Jane Austen managed to "drive around" in her "sociable" on these terrains!
As Queen Victoria made Osborne House her summer retreat, the Isle of Wight became a very popular watering place and it was fashionable to visit natural beauty spots, such as the Needles and Shanklin Chine.
Jane Austen certainly appears to have been quite a traveller off the beaten track in her days!
References and further reading:
- Le Faye, D. (2006) A Chronology of Jane Austen and Her Family. Cambridge University Press.
- On the history of Shanklin Chine: https://www.shanklinchine.co.uk/history/
- On writers visiting the Isle of Wight: https://farringford.co.uk/news-events/tennyson-poems-blog/writers-on-the-isle-of-wight