Day Eight: Chawton
Friday was really a magical day. We spent the whole of the morning and most of the afternoon at Chawton House, Edward Austen Knight's home, which has been fully restored since the Pemberley group was there four years ago. Kathy Quinn, and the rest of the team who run the house as a research library facility on women writers from 1600-1830, were so welcoming and hospitable. We had coffee and tea in the newly restored kitchen, and while waiting for our tours of the house to begin, Deborah Moggach, writer of the 2005 Pride and Prejudice screenplay, came to join us for the day. The tour of the house was so interesting, offering a glimpse into the life of Edward Austen Knight, as well as his sister Jane Austen, who visited at the "Great House" often. It also offered us a chance to see some of the incredible books the Library and Study Centre has available to researchers, and to see a recent acquisition: a silk suit once owned and worn by Edward Austen Knight.
We then toured the newly restored kitchen garden, passing the terrace where the bricks used were bought with money previously donated by the Republic of Pemberley. Some of us wandered around the grounds, including the prettyish sort of wilderness which was delightfully shady. And if we hadn't seen one before, there was an excellent example of a ha-ha, but luckily, no sign of Henry Crawford. Some of our party also managed to visit the Church in the grounds, where Mrs. Austen and Cassandra are buried.

Luncheon was served in the Great Hall, and Deborah Moggach joined us. When Julie realized there would be thirteen guests sitting at the head table - horrors - she made arrangements with Kathy Quinn for another quest to be present: she fashioned a little cravat out of a napkin and put it on the stuffed cat she had bought for her son. Thus, Mr. Cat Darcy was the fourteenth guest at the table, and very appropriately dressed was he. He made quite an appearance, the only male in the house.

After lunch, Deborah Moggach gave us a short talk on the process of writing her screenplay and how some of that screenplay was translated to the screen illustrated with clips form the film. She was a delightfully informative and gossipy speaker, who also seemed to enjoy hearing our views on the movie, and was gracious and unstinting in answering our questions. Afterward, she called us a bunch of 'nutters,' but by then we could see that she meant it in the nicest possible way.

From Chawton House it was only a short walk down the lane to Jane Austen's house, which is now a museum dedicated to her memory. Once the gamekeeper's cottage for Chawton House, Edward Austen Knight eventually made it over to his mother and sisters, and here Jane Austen lived for the last eight years of her life. She did a large portion of her writing, and revision of manuscripts in this house, sitting at a little table by the window.

Tom Carpenter, the curator of the museum, gave us a short talk on the history of the house, and then we were able to enter the house and roam as we wished. What an incredible feeling it was, to be in the rooms where Jane Austen lived, worked and wrote. The crosses Frank brought back to Cassandra and Jane are on display, much larger than they seem in pictures, along with many other items related to Jane and her family. The quilt Jane made with her sister and mother is now restored and on display on a bed. The two rooms of books and gift items were very popular spots for the Pemberley group.

Shortly after our arrival, Tom Carpenter appeared bearing a most precious treasure: a first edition three volume set of Pride and Prejudice once owned by Edward Austen Knight, Jane's brother. We were each able to take a turn at donning white cotton gloves and holding a volume of the set. Thrilling.

After dinner on Friday evening, we were entertained (and informed) by the ladies of The History Wardrobe, Lucy Adlington and Gillian Stapleton, with their presentation of The Georgian Domestic Goddess. They performed a skit about women's lives in Georgian England, showing how a woman's fascination for the Castle of Otranto and other such Horrid Novels, was not much use to her, bearing in mind the multitude of tasks a middling sort of woman was expected to be able to perform if she were to run her household efficiently. They then gave a talk about the clothes, manners and expectations of a respectable woman of the times. Gillian hand-sews most of the items of clothing on display, and also had many beautiful period accessories on show. Both ladies were as lovely as they were well-informed, and were generous with their knowledge and time.


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