On Saturday I paid a visit to Jane Austen’s House Museum in the pretty village of Chawton. Although I’ve always wanted to go there, this seemed a particularly fitting time to finally make the short trip, with One Off Productions currently rehearsing Pride and Prejudice.
I wanted to get a feel for the writer behind the story – if I can better understand her, surely I can better understand her work and the characters within that. I’m lucky enough to be playing Elizabeth Bennet, and though I’ve seen the film and TV adaptations, and am a great fan of Jennifer Ehle’s Lizzie in the BBC series, the original source material has to be the novel, and indeed the writer herself.
As the novel is set during Jane’s lifetime, seeing the house also helped me get a taste of the clothes, living conditions and day-to-day life of that period, which I can apply to Lizzie’s life.
The baking was done in an outhouse, which would have been lovely and toasty when in use, but on a chilly day in the middle of January was rather less so! Inside the house, we wandered round the kitchen, which is entered separately from the rest of the house, then headed back out and in through another door to the other rooms. Although it’s not a small house, the upper quarters seemed a little cramped, probably due to the number of visitors trying to circumnavigate the furniture and each other.
The kitchen was my favourite room as it had things to play with – quill fountain pens with ink and paper, dresses and bonnets to try on, dried lavender by little circles of fabric and string to make lavender bags with. The writing proved to be particularly difficult, as you could only write a few letters before needing more ink. To think that Jane Austen wrote all her novels by this means fills me with an even greater admiration for her.
Upstairs there were further examples of the type of clothing worn at that time, including some delicate dancing slippers, which I’m guessing would have been worn at the infamous balls. Perhaps Lizzie wears these at the Netherfield Ball when she is dancing with Mr Darcy, ripe with sexual tension.
The museum portrayed a life of eating, writing and taking long walks, with a spot of needlework in the evening. Now if only I could give up work and do a spot of method acting – I reckon I could cope with that!
It was wonderful to see the place where Jane Austen lived, to look down at the desk where she did so much of her writing, to walk in the footsteps of a person who’s beautiful stories have so delighted me – well worth a visit! I felt closer to the writer, closer to the mind behind Pride and Prejudice, and that bit closer to Lizzie. Bit by bit, I’m getting there…