Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 1 2018 02:00PM

The most beloved Austen site in England -- Jane Austen’s House Museum, aka Chawton Cottage, the Hampshire home where Austen wrote or revised all six of her completed novels – was closed last month. But it’s reopening today with some exciting programming for 2018, which marks the bicentennial of the publication of both Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.


For the next seven months, Chawton’s exhibits will “explore the themes of family and friendship in both Northanger Abbey and in the lives of the Austen family,” on the premise that the Morlands’ big, noisy clergy family might be partly inspired by the Austens’ big, noisy clergy family.


Then, in the last four months of 2018, a year that also marks the one hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I, the museum will launch an exhibit linked to Persuasion, set during the last months of the Napoleonic Wars. The exhibit will look at “the impact of war on Jane Austen's novels, the life of the Austen family, and on the country at large.”


Interesting stuff! Once again, it’s a good year to visit Chawton cottage. But, then, every year is a good year to visit Chawton cottage. . .


By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 8 2018 02:00PM

Among the commemorations planned during last year’s bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death, one of the most delightful was the Chawton quilt project – an ambitious effort by the staff of Jane Austen’s House Museum to create a quilt whose individual panels would tell the story of Austen’s life.


The museum – aka Chawton cottage, the place where Austen wrote or revised all six of her finished novels – solicited volunteer quilters, held workshops for local participants, and helped the children from Chawton’s elementary school design and create a central panel.


And last week, the museum blog dedicated to the project reported that the quilt squares created by Janeite stitchers across the globe are now being assembled into the final product – indeed, two final products, to accommodate the unexpectedly numerous contributions. Contributors included representatives of Jane Austen societies, professional quilters, and even prison inmates involved in a program of rehabilitation through needlework.


The squares glimpsed on the blog so far (here, for instance) look quite lovely. I’m eagerly awaiting a shot of the completed quilts. They will join one of the gems of Chawton’s collection, the famous coverlet co-created by Austen herself.


By Deborah Yaffe, Nov 13 2017 02:00PM

Over the nearly five years I’ve been blogging about Jane Austen, Jane Austen’s House Museum -- aka Chawton cottage, the beloved pilgrimage site in Hampshire, England, where Austen wrote or revised all six of her completed novels -- has created more than one Janeite Dream Job.


There was the recruiting of trustees, the search for unpaid weekend help to deal with the crush of tourists – even the (non-cottage-related, but still) sale of Cassandra’s Cup, the teashop across the street.


The latest example: The museum is seeking volunteers to catalogue the various items uncovered in the cottage’s gardens over the past twenty years. No word on what these items include, but the job announcement is illustrated with a photo of decorative ceramic shards.


Although the work may have only a tangential relationship to Austen – Chawton Cottage was inhabited for more than a century after her death – you never know what may have turned up. “We hope the objects found will provide a greater insight into the history of the site as well as assisting with any future interpretation and dressing of the house itself,” the museum’s announcement explains.


The job is unpaid, but it has its perks: A 25 percent discount on Mr. Darcy tote bags and the rest of the merchandise in the museum shop, and “tea, coffee and biscuits during your shift.” Not to mention the truly priceless part of the experience: the chance to spend some hours hanging around Jane Austen’s last home.


By Deborah Yaffe, Oct 5 2017 01:00PM

For many Janeites, a visit to Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, England, is incomplete without a stop at Cassandra’s Cup, the teashop across the street from the iconic cottage where Austen wrote or revised all six of her finished novels.


Now it looks as if Cassandra’s is getting some competition, albeit a bit farther afield: Austen’s Cafe and Takeaway opened last month in Alton, the much larger town near the tiny village of Chawton, in the county of Hampshire.


Although Austen’s seems more self-consciously Janeite than Cassandra’s – the décor features Austen book covers, and the afternoon tea options include choices named “Emma” and “Darcy” – the menus of both restaurants will look pretty familiar to anyone who has eaten out recently in provincial England. It’s the usual mix of British staples (jacket potatoes, ham and cheese sandwiches) and vaguely foreign fare (paninis, eggs Benedict), all washed down with copious lashings of tea. Both restaurants even offer a cream tea (scones, jam, clotted cream) with prosecco, which really leaves one little to complain of.


Curiously, I am a Janeite who has never set foot in Cassandra’s Cup: the last time I was in Chawton, it looked crowded, and I didn’t want to spend my scarce tourist time queuing for lunch. It’s good to know that next time I’ll have two options for prosecco cream tea.


By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 13 2017 01:00PM

For visitors to Jane Austen’s House Museum -- aka Chawton cottage -- where Austen spent the last eight years of her life and wrote or revised all her finished novels, the memorial plaque that hangs beside the building’s original front door is a touching testimonial to Janeite devotion.


“Jane Austen lived here from 1809-1817 and hence all her works were sent into the world,” the lettering reads. “Her admirers in this country and in America have united to erect this tablet. Such art as hers can never grow old.”


As we prepare to commemorate next Tuesday’s bicentennial of Austen’s death, turns out that this plaque is marking its own important anniversary: It was erected exactly one hundred years ago, on the centennial of Austen’s death.


I learned this fact, along with other interesting details about the plaque’s design, from a post included earlier this year in the “Jane Austen in 41 Objects” series that Jane Austen’s House Museum is running this year. Blog readers will recall that this exhibition, which began in March and continues until December 15, highlights a different item each week, with a blog post explaining its significance in Austen’s life or the museum’s collection.


The memorial plaque -- whose final line is a quotation from G.H. Lewes, the Victorian literary critic best known today as George Eliot's common-law husband -- is #12 in the series (the latest entry, an Austen letter, is #18). According to the museum’s post, the tablet had become somewhat the worse for wear after enduring a century of British weather. To mark this year’s important occasion, the Jane Austen Society of North America provided funding for a restoration – proof that Janeite devotion has survived the past one hundred years with far less damage.


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