A visit to Jane Austen’s House

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.

Jane Austen's House Museum

Jane Austen’s House Museum

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 Austen kitchen

The Austen kitchen

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!

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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…

Flirting with an idea

Since things are now a little quieter on the acting front (but not for long – LAMDA summer school next month eek!), I thought I’d take the chance to work on my long-neglected writing projects. The most prominent of these is, of course, the ever-elusive novel. I’ve been working on this thing since I was about 12. Though it’s taken many twists and turns, changed plot completely about ten times, and changed names even more (so basically we’re talking about a dozen different novel beginnings here) I still refer to all this as one novel. Granted, a novel that’s suffering a serious identity crisis. My novel, or ‘The Novel’ as I affectionately refer to it (note the capital T and N), has been both a joy and a trial, a constant companion to delight me in times of inspiration and frustrate me when the well of creativity runs dry.

The biggest obstacle hasn’t been a lack of ideas, but rather too many of them! I’m a pretty restless person, I get bored easily, and one might even call me ‘flighty’ (not one of my redeeming qualities), and sadly the same problem has afflicted my novel. Sorry, ‘The Novel’. So you can imagine the mixture of excitement and caution I felt when a new idea started flowing onto the page earlier this week. Since then I have discovered a few developments, made a few tweaks, and am now mulling it over in the little nooks and crannies of my mind, trying to be sensible about it all, waiting until I have something concrete to commit to. But then, there’s nothing sensible about writing a novel, and where creative choices are concerned I seem to have a commitment problem. But right now I’m still in the first flushes of something new, flirting with an idea, testing the boundaries and discovering all the new and charming little intricacies of my companion. Whether this time it will last, only time will tell…