Jane Austen: Events to remember on the bicentennial of her death will bring you closer to Mr. Darcy

Author: DENISE MARRAYFri, 2017-03-24ID: 1490297725713788800Have you ever been to Hampshire in England? If not there is an excellent reason to put it on your travel itinerary this year. For Hampshire is the home county of the renowned novelist Jane Austen, whose life and work is being celebrated this year on the bicentenary of her death, at just 41, in 1817.Austen died in lodgings on College Street, Winchester, where she had moved to be nearer to her physician. Winchester is a wonderful, historic city, which developed from the Roman town of Venta Belgarum. Its major landmark is Winchester Cathedral, famed for having the longest nave and overall length of all Gothic cathedrals in Europe.Austen is buried in the cathedral. The inscription on her tomb at the time of her death made no mention of her literary achievements. But a brass plaque added at a later date pays tribute to her talent. There is plenty to do and see in Winchester.One of the major highlights is the 13th century Great Hall where you can find an iconic symbol of medieval mythology, King Arthur’s Round Table. It is also worth noting the bronze statue of the 9th century King of Wessex, Alfred the Great, which stands close to the site of Winchesters medieval East Gate.The city is home to Winchester College, founded in 1382, (Motto – “Manners Maketh Man”) the oldest public school in the UK still using its original buildings.Last year Winchester was selected by the Sunday Times newspaper as the best place to live in Britain. You only have to walk down High Street to get a sense of its charm. Go to The Square and Market Lane, situated near the Cathedral, to find quality independent shops and excellent restaurants. Whether you want to be pampered in an exclusive salon, seek out contemporary art, or enjoy excellent food and nightlife, this area has it all. The Square is also home to Winchester City Museum.Don’t forget to take a stroll along the banks of the beautiful River Itchen, which flows through the city.So, we have explored the city where Austen died — but what about the place where she was born and raised? The village of Steventon in Hampshire is where Jane, the seventh of eight children, was born on Dec. 16, 1775. This is where she grew up and wrote three of her famous works; “Pride & Prejudice,” “Northanger Abbey” and “Sense & Sensibility.” Her father was the rector of the parish. The 12th century church where he preached and Jane worshipped still stands, although the rectory where they lived was pulled down in 1824.Jane and her sister Cassandra attended many dances at nearby large houses, some of which are still standing today. The most notable is The Vyne, a beautiful Tudor house and National Trust property, near Basingstoke.When her father retired he moved with his wife and daughters to the city of Bath. Over the next eight years Austen had a busy but rather unsettled life, moving between Bath, London, Clifton, Warwickshire, and, finally, Southampton, where after her father’s death she lived with her mother and sister from 1805 to 1809. For the visitor following the Austen trail, Bath, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a must-see. It is most famous for the archeological wonder from which it takes its name — the 2,000-year-old Roman baths. The waters, reputed to have healing powers, contain 43 different minerals and are a constant 46.5°C. Don’t forget to enjoy a soothing treatment at the luxurious Thermae Bath Spa.The Palladian architecture of John Wood and his son turned Bath into one of the country’s most beautiful cityscapes. Austen knew the city as a thriving spa resort, popular with fashionable society. The Pump Room, a set of elegant chambers built above the old Roman baths, is another attraction of the city with strong Austen connections. It was to the Pump Rooms that the upper classes flocked when they came to Bath to “take the waters.”Austen recorded her impressions of the Pump Room in her novel Northanger Abbey, writing: “Crowds of people were every moment passing in and out, up the steps and down…they sat near the great clock, after parading the room till they were tired.” Today, you can take a traditional afternoon tea in the Pump Room to the accompaniment of live musicians, playing the classical music that would have been enjoyed by visitors over two centuries ago.In Bath the Austen enthusiast can find a trove of information at the Jane Austen Center, which houses a permanent exhibition telling the story of Jane’s experience in the city between 1801 and 1806. The center has an annual Jane Austen Festival: This year’s 10-day festival, opening on Sept. 9, will feature more than 70 events, beginning with the Grand Regency Costumed Promenade. In 2014, the Jane Austen Festival achieved the Guinness World Record for “The largest gathering of people dressed in Regency costumes.”In the port city of Southampton, Austen stayed with her brother in a house in Castle Square, beside the medieval sea walls. She attended dances in the ballroom of the Dolphin Hotel. The Mercure Southampton Center Dolphin Hotel is the oldest hotel in Southampton dating back over 500 years. Many of the hotel’s original features have been preserved including two of Britain’s largest bay windows. One of the two function rooms is named after Austen as she celebrated her 18th birthday in the hotel in 1793.Austen was at heart a country girl and she was at her most productive when she became more settled back in the peace and calm of the countryside she loved. In 1809, Jane’s brother Edward was able to provide his mother and sisters with a large cottage in the village of Chawton, within his Hampshire estate, not far from Steventon.Austen spent the last eight years of her life in this cottage from 1809 until 1817. Here she revised the three manuscripts she had written previously, but which had remained unpublished, wrote three more novels and started one more, which was destined to remain unfinished before illness overtook her. Jane left the cottage for the last time in May 1817 to take lodgings near her physician in Winchester.Today the cottage is Jane Austen’s House Museum, dedicated to the life and works of the author. You can get an insight into her life through the fascinating “Jane Austen in 41 Objects” exhibition, which runs through Dec. 15. Each object and accompanying text explores a different aspect of her life and work. One of the most moving objects is the small walnut occasional table placed by a window where Austen wrote.If you are traveling to Chawton from London you can take a train from Waterloo station to Alton on South West Trains. The journey takes about 1-hour, 15 minutes. You can order a taxi to take you from Alton to Chawton – a five-minute drive. One of the places outside of her beloved Hampshire that Austen grew to love was Lyme Regis, a coastal town in southwest Dorset, which she visited in 1803 and 1804. In “Persuasion,” she describes “the principal street almost hurrying into the water, the Walk to the Cobb, skirting round the pleasant little bay, which, in the season, is animated with bathing machines and company … are what the strangers eye will seek.”Lyme Regis has retained its charm as an unspoiled seaside resort and fishing port. Surrounded by beautiful coastlines and countryside, the area has now been awarded world heritage Site Status. It is famous for its geology and fossil finds.Jane Austen continues to delight readers around the world with her wit and social observations. This year provides a great opportunity to celebrate her work through visits to the places that shaped her fruitful life.• life.style@arabnews.com
Main category: Travel

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