Jane Austen… And Her House

Well after a wonderful time out in the woods and the wonderful countryside on my reading retreat what better than to spend a lovely Sunday at the house of none other than Jane Austen. Perfect for some book geeks as you can see…

Though would you believe it one of these geeks has never read a Jane Austen novel, but more on that later because in case you hadn’t spotted from the street sign we were visiting…

I have to say I had never heard of Chawton House before but when we saw it on the map (along with our friend being a huge, huge Jane fan) and realised it was only 30 minutes away from where we were staying, how could we not pop by to such a historical and beautiful place…

You can see Jane’s bedroom which she shared with her sister Cassandra…

Or what all three of us found the most amazing of all, the table where she re-wrote and edited ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and ‘Persuasion’ before they were finally published…

Speaking of those books there were plenty of her books on sale in the shop at the end and I had to stop myself from going on a crazy spend…

To release some of the giddy joy that this trip unleashed myself and Polly of Novel Insights the decided to re-enact some history…

That we did back all those years ago when we were four…

I did go crazy afterwards in Cassandra’s Cup Café and had a rather delightful Cream Tea as I felt it was the quintessential British treat to have after such a marvellous outing…

It was a fabulous day, but I do have to tell you a little something, now it should come with a warning because you might all be rather shocked. I have to make a Jane Austen confession and its no small confession, apart from 50 pages of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (which I found unbelievably dull and put me off a little) I have never read any Jane Austen!!! Have you all run off and left now that you have just read that?

The thing is that I do want to (and I now have my eyes on the wonderful illustrated editions by Oxford University Press on the right – shame I can’t buy any books this year, mind you I don’t have a spare £105, but I can dream) especially having watched a wonderful film all about her as we entered the place. I have the drive but am not sure where to start. I have been told that ‘Northanger Abbey’ would be right up my street. I am wondering if maybe I should start there and have an Austen Adventure. Would anyone like to join me?

Which Austen’s have you read and loved? Have you simply never got her? What would you suggest that an Austen novice should start with?



Filed under Book Thoughts, Jane Austen

69 responses to “Jane Austen… And Her House

  1. Wow, lovely pictures and great post. Must have been great fun to visit Austen’s house. I’m slightly envious too! 😀

    Northanger Abbey is the easiest (and also not the most mature) Austen book to read, so you could start with it. It’s a good satire to laugh with. I’d usually recommend Pride and Prejudice to start with. Persuasion is great too, but I’d suggest that when you’re done with her initial books.

  2. Oh Simon!! Very brave of you to admit that! Looks like you all had a marvellous day – a cream tea is always a must on a day out, and that looks like a spectacular one! I am yet to make it to Chawton but WILL go this summer. I have promised myself!

    Well I LOVE Jane Austen and personally I think you should read Northanger Abbey LAST, as it is her most juvenile work and you might be put off if you read it before her greater, later novels. My two absolute favourites are Emma and Persuasion – Emma is hysterical and lovely and Persuasion is the most romantic and beautiful story ever, so it depends what you’re in the mood for. Maybe you should start with Emma, actually – if you love Emma, you’ll be converted to Austen for life.

    • Cream tea’s are always very important in fact they can make or break a day, this one I can confirm was utterly amazing, the scone was still warm.

      I think Northanger Abbey has been recommended to me because of the gothic nature of it, and its always good to get a shoddier one out of the way. There is also the fact I like reading things in order lol. I would save Persuasion till last I think.

  3. I had a leaflet for that Austen house which came in some magazine I brought. I’m not Austens biggest fan (I much prefer the TV and films than the books) but I did really enjoy Mansfield Park. Firstly because the young ppl in it actually act like teenagers and secondly because although you know who the nam character will end up with, theres a part of the book where you wonder if that will actually happen.

    • I think the amazing TV version of Pride and Prejudice might be why I have not enjoyed the book so much on the two times that I have tried it. Because the show was so amazing the book pales, I will probably get gasps in response to that.

  4. Another splendid post and what a confession! My favourite is Emma as I just love Emma herself. I wonder were they selling a collection of short stories called “Dancing with Mr Darcy” in the gift shop there? All of the stories are inspired by Jane Austen or Chawston and I have to say that soe of them are really good
    Thanks for sharing

    • Emma is possibly another place that I might start my Austen Adventure because its one of the very few of her novels that I have never seen an adaption of so that really stands in its favour.

  5. Such a cute photograph of a young Polly and young Simon on the swings!

    How brave to admit that about Austen; I do love your frank honesty, Simon, and how you are so unashamedly -and refreshingly- upfront.

    I’ve read all of Austen’s novels now and her juvenilia; I left Persuasion to last and finally read -and loved it- last summmer. Pride and Prejudice & Emma remain my favourites though; I’m too attached to them for Persuasion to usurp them in my esteem.

    Northanger Abbey is the weakest and I don’t think it’s a good idea to read it until you have read more of the Gothic novels that she is pastiching (like Radcliffe and Lewis).

    I have an unorthodox approach to Austen to suggest – take up P&P again but this time watch the BBC adaptation (limiting yourself to one episode at a time!) and read along with it, i.e. watch ep 1 and then read up to Jane and Elizabeth leaving Netherfield and then watch ep 2 and so on. It was the way I did it as a fourteen year old -I was very keen to read P&P but as I had already started to watch the adaptation I decided that the installment reading over six weeks would increase my hunger for the story- and it worked.

    • Glad you liked the picture of me and Polly, it feels weird seeing them together… in a lovely way of course hahaha.

      I think there are lots of authors who people assume all bloggers must have read. Another two I havent are Hardy and Dickens so I am clearly a fraud hahaha. I am going to go on adventures with all three very soon so hopefully people will follow the journey and be less shy of admitting they have missed an author.

      I think the P&P idea is a good one but might not for me as I mentioned above the TV show was so good it made the book pale in away and I need to maybe avoid that for a while. The Converted One wants to watch P&P (the BBC version) though so you never know.

  6. You’re in good company, Simon. I haven’t read Austen either. I tried P&P about 2 years ago but didn’t get beyond the first 30 or 40 pages. Mind you, i was reading it on an eReader and the formatting was horrible, so that might have more to do with it than the quality of the story.

    • I should also add that I don’t think you should ever feel guilty or ashamed for not having read a certain author. Life is too short. If people want to be snobby about it, then that’s their problem, not yours. 😉

      • Oops – by my “unashamedly” I didn’t mean that Simon -or anyone else- should feel ashamed for not having read Austen (each to their own) but I appreciated the candour.

      • No I don’t either but I do worry I am a little low-brow now and again, part of it is also as they are British authors I feel I should as part of my cultural heritage, maybe thats weird.

    • As you know I don’t really like e-readers so that definitley wouldnt have worked for me either. I am going to try again though.

  7. Until March/April this year I hadn’t read Austen either, and it wasn’t until the beginning of the year that I decided that should change. I started with Pride & Prejudice and loved it but Sense & Sensibility and Persuasion I finished but didn’t enjoy so much. Northanger Abbey is the one I want to read next so if you’re planning a read-along I’m up for joining.

    I’ve been to see her grave at Winchester, but didn’t see the house. Reading this I see the latter was a mistake.

    • I have heard Persuasion is the best from many people in fact it ties with P&P which I find really, really interesting. No one really mentions Mansfield Park much do they?

  8. Austen is a huge passion for me but I don’t think it is awful that you have never read one of her books – I don’t believe there are any authors or books that a person “must” or “should” read – you have to love whatever you choose to read! Having said that – I think Northanger Abbey would be a great place to start if you want to give Austen a go.

    • You see its weird but some books and authors just almost have the ‘you must have read them’ vibe about them. My Mum teaches english and she says half of them are for valid reasons half certainly arent hahaha. I think Woolf and Salinger fall in the latter half of her statement for her. Austen though is one she is always saying I simply must read along with. Hardy was another.

  9. gracenotes34

    I’m such a fan of Austen that I find it very hard to understand any book lover not devouring her books over and over – but don’t we all have a favourite about whom we cannot be objective? If you didnt like P&P first time I’m not sure there’s any hope for you – but it may be worth a retry – sometimes it’s just the wrong moment to get into a writer’s rhythm. It would still be my favourite along with Persuasion and Mansfield Park.
    I think most TV adaptations and films are misleading as introductions to Austen – as they dont glory in the writing and over-stress the humour (her’s is more subtle) – and maybe specially for a man – as somehow producers seem fixed on a very simpering version of Austen men. Where the BBC version scored was not that Colin Firth was so attractive – but that (for me anyway) Andrew Davies the adaptor saw the story as one about a complex Darcy and his strong passion and internal battle – not as a comedy of manners. So Id say read first (not film)and read P&P first; not Northanger – unless you really do have a taste for something much lighter and less accomplished.

    • The first line of your comment is just what I mean, not in a pressurised or snobby way – as I know thats not how its meant, about certain authors you simply have to read. I think I can feel a special post just on this topic alone coming up!

      I totally get what you mean about Andrew Davies, he is super douper talented and the whole cast was just right in his adaptation too.

  10. I regret I have as you say, “simply never got her”. However, its always fascinating to visit an authors home, and your photos are excellent – particularly the bed and the writing table!

  11. I have tried to read Jane Austen–especially Pride and Prejudice countless of times. A combination of boredom, dislike, and sometimes apathy could be the cause. Earlier this year, I realized I was beating my head against the wall.

    But I do want to try her, though–I’m going to try out Emma, though Persuasion is *the* Austen book I’m definitely going to read.

    • It could be that its P&P rather than Austen. I have heard tell once you get past about page 70ish the book suddenly becomes a dream, its a shame it appears (and indeed has been for me) such a struggle.

  12. Deb

    I suspect that great love for Austen’s novels may be, by and large, a gender- and age-related phenomenon (ducks!) I love Austen, but I first read her when I was in my impressionable teens, grappling with all the big questions about love, life, and where I fit in; I’m not sure if I were first reading her (with my teen years looooong past), I would really “get” her. Also, I think the emphasis on who will marry whom and under what circumstances is probably something that entertains women more than men.

    I would recommend starting with EMMA–she’s a little more human, a little less “perfect” than Elizabeth Bennett in P&P or Anne in PERSUASION.

    • Do you think it is really age and gender based? You see that makes me wonder if she is truly one of the greats then because the greatest authors can appeal to everyone as part of being so great. (That makes sense in my head lol).

  13. Sounds like you had a fantastic time, hooray! And what better way to round it off than with a lovely cream tea. There are few things I enjoy more!

    As for Jane Austen, I love her books. I find myself coming back to them every so often, especially when I’m feeling a bit under the weather: books you’ve loved when you were younger (which still hold up as an adult reader!) make such wonderful comfort reading.

    I love Persuasion and Emma (I also love Pride and Prejudice, but can understand that it might not be everyone’s cup of tea!). Persuasion is probably her most ‘accomplished’ book, to speak in the language of Austen, and, for me, the best one for re-reading. Emma is great, though; she’s an odd little character, but I loved the portrayal of an intelligent-but-idle young lady of leisure.

    Having said that, there is a special place in my heart, now and forever, for Northanger Abbey. It just makes me giggle! It’s light and admittedly not as well-developed as her other work, but really is a lot of fun. I think you might really enjoy that one, actually, especially as it’s a parody of gothic literature. The pastiche elements are quite enjoyable!

    • I am genuinely hoping that once i give Jane a real chance she becomes a favourite and her works become some of the books I will turn to again and again.

      I am intrigued by the almost (but not quite so no one take offense) snobbery about Northanger Abbey, its made me want to read the book even more.

  14. Ok – I was only jealous of your weekend when I saw the lovely log cabin – now I am absolutely covetous of your get-away since you were able to visit Chawton. SOME DAY I will go there and relish in all things Austen.

    I teach Pride and Prejudice and each year I re-read it. I never grow bored and always discover some new insight into a character. I personally would recommend this classic.

    • Molly your recommedation is fully taken on board. My mother would agree with you I think she also reteaches this regularily and still loves it! A sure sign of a good book.

  15. Thanks for sharing all the great photos. I would love to see that house someday and get those illustrated books.

  16. Back in 2005, a friend and myself went backpacking around Europe and the UK and we made sure to stop by Chawton Cottage, even though it was kind of unwieldy to get to, especially as we were lugging around heavy backpacks the entire time! But we did it, because such is my devotion to Jane. I’ve not read a book by her that I didn’t like, but P&P is definitely my favourite.

    Another great Austen-related site is the cathedral in Winchester where she is buried!

  17. Oh, just when I was wistfully looking at yesterday’s pictures, you add fuel to the fire! (Gasp!) To be able to just pop over and see dear Jane’s house… 🙂
    I would say, “Fie on you!” to your neglect of Jane, but even if I did, it would be tongue in cheek. Northanger Abbey does seem to be a good starting place for you, and if not that, then perhaps Emma? (My “fie” would be tongue-in-cheek knowing how many “great” authors I myself have yet to get to – so many books, so little time, as they say. 🙂 )

    • It was funny because until I spotted it on the map in the car on the way to the cabin non of us would have thought of going there, so was fate in a weird way.

      Northanger and Emma seem to be the two most likely of the books that I start my Austen Adventure with here at Savidge Reads HQ!

  18. Love the photos – it looks like such a fun trip! And like you, I too have never read any Austen except for P&P – how crazy! Especially being that I majored in English for both my BA and MA – oh well. Plus, I own all of her works in a collection of hardbacks – for shame on me for not picking them up and reading them. Anyhow, I would love to join you on an Austen Adventure – that would probably push me into reading the books sooner rather then never 🙂 Cheers!

    • Nadia I will keep everyone posted on the idea of an Austen adventure and actually myself and another blogger are considering maybe doing a month of all things Austen, keep your eyes peeled.

  19. Ti

    I’ve not read Austen either!! P & P is on my summer reading list though.

    I love the swing pic. That was a nice touch.

    • Glad you liked the swing pictures, its nice to have had such a wonderful book loving friend for such a long time. Who knew all those years ago that we would still be friends now lol.

  20. The beauty of living in the UK… so much history at your fingertips. Alas, Canada is still a newborn so I don’t have a great selection of literary sites to visit, although my eyes are always on the lookout! You never know what you’ll find, right?

    I love the picture of you two on the swings! That’s the thing about friendship; it lasts a lifetime!

  21. Okay well I’ve managed to fight the over whelming urge to run lol. But being serious it is rather shocking that you’ve read no Austen. I read Sense and Sensibility found it good, then read Emma and absolutely loved it. I can’t comment on any of her other work, but would definitely recommend Emma.

  22. *Gasp!* Pride and Prejudice is my very favorite, but I also recently read and loved Emma. Love the pictures, and I’m almost certain Jane Austen’s house would be a literary Mecca for anyone! 🙂

  23. I’ve commented on Emma elsewhere (possibly even here) so I’ll avoid being like a comedian turned game show host and refrain from reusing the same old material. Despite it not being my favourite, if you are primarily looking to be entertained you should probably choose to start with Emma. If you want to be entertained, admire some astute social commentary and gain an introduction to Austen’s most persistent themes and concerns then I would suggest you start with P&P. It was my first introduction to Austen as an A-level student (that’ll be twenty years ago this autumn, how time flies). At first it may appear superficially light. One critic (sorry I cannot remember who or where) recently suggested that if it was written today it would be regarded as chick lit not literature. I think that is a bit unfair, and ignores the complexity and serious purpose that underlies the fun.

    Seeing the photos of Jane Austen’s rooms I was reminded how sterile and artificial the homes of the long-departed famous can be when opened as tourist attractions. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those pompous types who are keen to attack the heritage industry for offering what they regard as a saccharine version of the past. A realistic experience of life in earlier centuries would be unlikely to comply with modern health and safety requirements, let alone provide an enjoyable day out. Nor am I saying that it is not pleasurable and rewarding to visit the homes of great writers and the like. I’ve been to many in my time and enjoyed the sense of following in the footsteps of individuals whose work I have enjoyed or whose actions I have admired. I am simply conscious of the inevitability that an empty home, or one filled with day trippers or reverential fans, offers a very different experience from that of the one time resident. I enjoyed visiting the birthplace of Robbie Burns in 2008, but the adjacent lawns and, moreover, the main road right outside made it very different from the humble cottage that the man himself would have remembered. I suppose this serves as a reminder that, as with their homes, we inevitably view the works of the classic writers through the prism of our own modern day experience.

    • I have heard people make the chick lit comment with Austen and even from only the fifty pages I read I wouldnt agree with them. I think its just because people lazily say ‘ooooh books about love must be chick lit’.

      Sorry the pictures weren’t too much to your taste, I just wanted to share the experience with everyone as knew some readers would like it.

      It also tied into my wanting to discuss the lady herself lol and the weekend I had.

      • Sorry if I gave the impression I didn’t like the pictures, which was/is not the case. Blogs are really brought to life by original photographs. Not that I am saying your writing isn’t good enough on its own ha!ha!

  24. What a fun post! I’m going to agree with Hannah and recommend Emma for your first Austen novel. I hope you enjoy it, but it doesn’t seem realistic to expect that every reader will like every author. Said by an ardent Janeite!

    • Lisa you are so right. Not everyone can love every book or every classic author. I am sure there were people in Austens day who thought she was dire, no one mentions that though do they hahaha.

  25. Great and timely post! I just watched Pride and Prejudice (2005) for the second time in about a week! Incredible movie!

  26. Rhian

    Not sure I would (re)start with Northanger Abbey – that’s the one I like least.

    I think I’d go with Emma or Persuasion. But up for an Austen Adventure whatever you start with.

    Nothing shocking in not having read/liked an author (tho’ I agree with Deb that there may be something age/gender related, as I too first read Austen as a teenager). But I would say that, as my own shocking confession is that I don’t “get” Thomas Hardy – I have read (forced myself to the end of) 4 of his books and have come to the conclusion that he is just not my cup of tea.

    • It seems lots of people quite fancy an Austen Adventure so maybe thats something that I can think about defiitley doing, myself and another blogger have been mulling it all over.

      I haven’t tried Hardy (I know, I know I keep making it worse for myself lol) yet. I am thinking of starting with Tess though.

  27. Dan P.

    My fav. Austen is Mansfield Park. It has always seemed a little more serious and less witty than the rest which fits my personal reading taste better. I also liked S snd S, but would recommend staying far away from it as it’s beginning is some of Austen’s most boring confusing writing.

    • Interesting that those who have recommended Mansfield Park as favourites are men. I wonder if there is anything in that?

      S&S just sounds dull, not that you should judge a book on its title.

      • gracenotes34

        It is odd about Mansfield Park as it has the “wettest” hero in Edmund – but it does also have the best anti-hero in Henry Crawford (though again so badly served in the TV and film adaptations) – and more sex than in other Austen’s – Id like to see Andrew Davies tackle that! – tho the pretty poor ITV version seems to have made that unlikely at least for a while.

  28. m

    What a treat to have all her novels ahead of you, I’d love to be able read them again for the first time. Having said that, each time I return to them I find something new in them – and I certainly appreciate Jane’s dry humour more than I did as a teenager. (When her famous dirty joke in Mansfield Park definitely passed over my head … and wasn’t explained to us at school!)

    • Yes there is that factor of having a treat ahead of me, no one else has mentioned that M and its a lovely way of looking at it.

      I do like the fact everyones mentioning Jane’s witt! I am looking forward to that. I shall also have to read Mansfield Park to find that joke lol.

      • m

        I do think that I get much more from books as I get older (although perhaps I’m not so easily swept away by great romance as I used to be, which is a shame!) I certainly understand more why the whole marriage question was so important, and that Mrs Bennet wasn’t simply a silly woman obsessing about every unattached male who arrives in the neighbourhood.
        As for Mansfield Park … don’t forget that Jane was a robust Georgian lady with brothers in the navy, not a prissy Victorian miss!

  29. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility and loved them both, but I do think it’s easier to get into Sense and Sensibility right from the start.

  30. That house looks like just the sort of place Jane Austen would live in. It could have been designed for the movie biopic about her. I think that’s a testimony to her writing too, that reading her books makes one think of exactly the place where they take place. I had the same experience with Haworth Parsonage.

    I’m going to come out as well, and let you know that if you didn’t like Pride and Prejudice after 50 pages you should just stop forcing yourself to read Jane Austen and get on with your life. There are other writers, many of them almost as good as Jane, that you can read instead. I’ve read all of her novels except Northanger Abbey; I know of what I speak.

  31. A comment upon comments: Why I like Mansfield Park the most? It has something that other austens do not have, a story of childhood. I don’t know if this can be seen as a male point of view. Regarding your comparison of the P and P series with the book, I remember the series met some harsh criticism from literary people, who meant it was loaded with stuff that wasn’t in the book!

  32. gracenotes34

    talking of visiting writers’ places – I visited Haworth – the village is terribly overrun by touristy stuff even in winter – but the house and garden – on a grey, freezing cold day – with rooks (I think) cawing in the high trees – was so evocative.So maybe timing is everything?

  33. All I can say, Simon, is oooohh…..

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