The lady with the quill pen sat in front of the window watching village life go by, writing, writing, writing.
Not extraordinary to look at: a beloved aunt with an impish sense of fun, she had never moved to marriage, but supported herself with scribblings which began on a cream-paper page and continue to resound to this day, in the minds of people centuries later and thousands of miles apart.
The window at which Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility, as most of her mature writings, looks out on a village road, and I suppose the pedestrians on the village road looked curiously in on her.
What was she writing, they wondered in her early days? Was she love-sick for some gentleman who would never look at her and her paltry financial state, a dependent in every sense?
Later, as the same villagers passed, Jane at the window was a woman of means, and wrote with the confidence of one whose writings were already becoming coveted.
But in the early days, note, she was an unknown.
She would write every morning, directly after breakfast; and sometimes. in the evening, she would be known to rush from the dinner table, smiling, to write down an idea before it escaped her.
We know not where our lives will take us.
But a life could do worse than bring one, aged 33, to this sunshine-filled house opposite the tavern, along the way from the church, surrounded by timbered thatched cottages, impossibly lush and green.
It is said her interest in writing revived within months of arriving at Chawton, near Winchester.
What should one expect of the house of one of the greatest novelists who ever lived? Pomp and circumstance? Grandeur and opulence?
No: because the very thing which made Jane, Jane, filled this house as we walked around it. It was a light, comforting, unpretentious place; a commonsensical household filled with silent echoes of the unaffected love of a very large family.
You could almost hear the thunder of children’s’ feet on the staircase as their aunt devised yet another game for them to play. If you squinted you might just be able to see the ladies absorbed in their novels in the reading room, or servants cooking in the kitchens.
If ever a spirit of place bore out a woman’s words, this place does.
In the kitchen, a farmhouse table is strewn with things to do: would we like to stuff a little bag with lavender, a sign enquired politely? Or try writing a message with a quill pen?
Someone had written, among the other greetings: “Dear Jane, I’d have married you.”
The ladies would meet in the drawing room to sew or talk and look out at that lovely garden. A light room filled with indefinable gaiety, with a tall walnut bureau of books, it boasted a Clementi square piano with which the ladies could entertain themselves.
The room in which Jane’s table sits, furnished with quill, looks out on the street and fresh wild flowers fill a vase at the window.
And up narrow stairs, flooded with light, is Jane’s bedroom: a small affair with a covered bed, table, bathroom closet and a wardrobe. It looks out on the yard and gardens. Even for a dependent, it’s a happy view.
Today as I walked round so much made me smile: yet one thing hurt my heart.
For Jane had to leave. On May 24, 1817, she was taken away from her writing window to a house just outside Winchester Cathedral. The good physicians were at Winchester and her health was worsening. Her sister Cassandra came with her: I wonder if Jane knew she would never see the view from her little writing table again.
For the house at Chawton tugs at you, when you leave.
When you write at your window: remember Jane. For we know not where our lives will take us.