Prepared by member Margaret
Our August meeting was a lively one led by Margaret who reported on her Literary Tour of Southern England (20 May – 1 June, 2012), which was run by Australians Studying Abroad (ASA), and led by Susannah Fullerton, the current President of the Jane Austen Society of Australia.
Structure: We learn about the lives and writing of many notable Englishmen and women, hearing about and seeing where they were born, lived, went to school, wrote, the influences on them, and/or the people and places used in their writing.
The main writers covered in this tour were: Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Anthony Trollope, John Keats, Charles Darwin, William Wordsworth, Charles Dickens, Geoffrey Chaucer, Alfred Lord Tennyson and, of course, Jane Austen. This report focuses on the Jane Austen aspects of the tour.
Material provided in advance of the tour: an extensive reading list, a daily itinerary, and a Handbook that becomes rather a literary dictionary.
Day 1: Heathrow Airport to Canterbury
First stop was at Westerham in Kent. In Pride and prejudice, Mr Collins’ first letter is headed Hunsford, near Westerham, Kent. Rosings would have been nearby, of course!
We also visited Charles Darwin’s house at Downe, Kent.
Day 2: Canterbury
Jane Austen often visited Canterbury when staying with her brother Edward at Godmersham Park. On one visit she even went inside the Canterbury Gaol (still there today) as her brother was a magistrate and needed to enter the prison on official business. Godmersham Park is now an opticians’ institute and not open to the public. In letters to Cassandra Jane mentioned shopping and going to balls. Miss Bates may be modelled on a Miss Milles who lived in the Cathedral precincts.
In the evening, there was a performance by the actress Teresa Gallagher of “Listening to the young Jane Austen”, which introduced us to to Jane’s wit and irony via her early writings.
Day 3: Sissinghurst – Vita Sackville-West
Day 4: included Royal Tunbridge Wells
Susannah Fullerton listed 30 writers besides Jane Austen as having associations with this town. There were many Austen family connections.
In Northanger Abbey it is clear that Mrs Thorpe had once taken her daughters to Tunbridge. In Emma, Harriet Smith keeps her “most precious treasures” in a “pretty little Tunbridge-ware box”. In Sanditon, Austen’s unfinished novel, the heroine’s parents, Mr and Mrs Heywood, manage “an occasional month at Tunbridge Wells” on holiday.
The rest of the day was given to Charles Dickens, with a guided walk of Rochester, and visits to three villages associated with him and his wife or his writing: St James Church, Cooling, the village of Chalk and the Leather Bottle Inn, Cobham.
Day 5: included a real highlight – Penshurst Place and Sir Philip Sidney
It also included Hartfield and AA Milne, with a walk to the Poohsticks Bridge.
The day ended with a visit to Groombridge Place Gardens, for a guided tour which only included an external view of this moated manor house. The earliest mention of it is 1239, and it had a chequered history over the centuries before modernisation and repair in the 1900’s. There are reputed to be some ghosts in the manor. The gardens have a bird of prey sanctuary, a secret garden, a drunken garden, a moat bridge and a forest.
In the Keira Knightley version of Pride and prejudice, Groombridge Place was used as Longbourn – but the real thing is vastly different. The manor has been used by other film makers: The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982) and The Day of the Triffids (2009). Jane Austen almost certainly never visited Groombridge.
Day 6: included a highlight, the mediaeval moated manor house, Ightham Mote (est. circa 1320)
We had a guided tour and staff are immensely proud of the building and the grounds. The furniture is waxed only twice a year (to prevent a buildup of wax) and early each morning all the furniture is dusted. The house was used for the climax in Anya Seton’s novel Green Darkness.
We visited Munstead Wood Gardens, the home designed for Gertrude Jekyll by Edwin Lutyens. We were shown around the internationally renowned garden by the head gardener.
Then we headed to Steventon, the birthplace of Jane Austen, to see the church (where her father preached). However, this did not eventuate as our coach could not fit down the narrow road. There are many associations with the Austen family. Jane attended the church every Sunday, and as a young girl wrote false entries in the church marriage register. Over recent years, necessary church repairs have been paid for by Jane Austen Societies in Australia and the USA.
We went on to North Waltham to have dinner at the Wheatsheaf Inn where Jane used walk to collect the mail. One of the doctors in the area in the late 18th century was a friend of the Austen family.
Day 7: Hardy day in Dorchester and Stinsford
Day 8: the Isle of Wight, by ferry from Portsmouth
Jane Austen refers to the island in Mansfield Park. Fanny Price calls it “the island” as if there is no other. It would have been in sight of her Portsmouth home.
It is not known if Jane Austen herself went there, but it is quite possible that she did visit during the two years she lived in Southampton. The Jane Austen Society (UK) now has an Isle of Wight branch.
Day 9: Winchester and Chawton
In May 1817 Jane was very unwell and went to Winchester with her sister Cassandra to consult a doctor, Giles King Lyford. They stayed in a friend’s house at 8 College Street and she died there on 18 July. Today we can view the house only from the street. We visited the Cathedral to pay our respects and Susannah left some flowers on her tombstone. Winchester is also known for Trollope and we visited the mediaeval hospital of St Cross where we were given an excellent tour by one of the Brothers.
Day 10: Salisbury and Lacock
Masses of writers are connected with Salisbury (eg Trollope, Hardy, Dickens). We had a guided tour of the Cathedral, called by Hardy “the most graceful architectural pile in England”, and saw the Magna Carta. Jane Austen probably/possibly visited Salisbury on her way to Bath. When the Ang Lee/Emma Thompson film version of Sense and Sensibility was being made, beautiful Mompesson House, a perfect example of Queen Anne architecture, was used as the London home of Mrs Jennings.
Day 11: Bath, which has a vast number of literary connections, starting with Chaucer
Jane Austen visited Bath in 1797 and 1799, the year her aunt Jane Leigh Perrott was arrested and tried for shoplifting. Perrott was acquitted in 1800. In 1801 Jane came to Bath with her parents to live. She was uncomfortable about her lack of money and disliked the social round. They lived at 4 Sydney Place, but after her father’s death the Austen women moved to various other residences in the city.
There are many references to Bath in the Jane Austen novels. In Northanger Abbey Catherine Morland is delighted to be there and visits the shops, theatre, Pump Room, and dances at the Assembly balls. Anne Elliot of Persuasion is not so pleased to be there. However, she finds happiness in Bath and a moving scene in the novel occurs when she walks happily with Captain Wentworth along the secluded Gravel Walk. Sir Walter takes a house in Camden Place, Lady Dalrymple is in Laura Place, the Crofts stay in Gay Street, Colonel Wallis lives in Marlborough Buildings (near the Royal Crescent), Lady Russell has lodgings on Rivers Street, and Mrs Smith lodges in Westgate Buildings.
Day 12: Blaise Hamlet, Tintern Abbey and Hay-on Wye
Blaise Castle Estate is an historic park of romantic splendour and intrigue. The castle is a folly, erected in 1766 at enormous expense. The hamlet was designed by Humphrey Repton’s son George and John Nash, and built in 1811 for retired employees of the Quaker banker John Harford. The cottages are now owned by the National Trust and not open to the public. Blaise is mentioned in Northanger Abbey, when Catherine Morland questions John Thorpe about the castle and he, completely ignorant about the place, tells her a string of lies. Jane Austen’s joke is that Blaise is not a genuinely old castle. Catherine never discovers her mistake about Blaise but does discover a genuinely old place when she comes to Northanger Abbey. Tintern Abbey is mentioned in Mansfield Park. Fanny Price has a”romantic” view of the Abbey hanging in a lower pane of one window in her East Room.
Day 13: Pangbourne and Windsor
Pangbourne was the setting for two great “river-novels” – Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in The Willows and Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat. We had an excellent guided walk through Windsor as our final activity, before heading off to where the literary tour began, Heathrow Airport.
- It was agreed that at the October meeting we would decide on our Christmas lunch plan for this year, and our focus book, if any, for 2013.
- Cheng showed us her special 2nd edition (1754) first volume of Sir Charles Grandison. We drooled with envy.
- Jan advised that the publisher of the magazine Jane Austen’s Regency World will be in Canberra next year during the Jane Austen Festival.
- Our October meeting will be devoted to Gilpin and the Picturesque. Sue will post some useful links on the blog.
- We welcomed two new members, and look forward to getting to know them over future meetings.