Where is Jane Austen’s true home? Is it Bath, a city that figured prominently in many of her novels, and current host to the Jane Austen Festival? Or is it Chawton in Hampshire, a place Austen loved and lived for years? While there, she completed the manuscripts to a number of her works, and her Chawton Cottage eventually became the Jane Austen Museum, which boasts such sundries as her writing desk and a lock of her hair.
David Lassman, festival director and an authority on the author, makes a valid point about setting for Janeites planning a pilgrimage. You can’t read Persuasion, for example, without picturing Anne Elliott and Captain Wentworth chasing each other around drawing rooms in the temperate Somserset town.
“A lot of the buildings are still here from her day which is why, when
international fans think of Jane, they picture her here. If a casual reader
of Austen picked up one of her books they would never read about Chawton,
whereas Bath is mentioned time and again as a setting. Whatever the details
of her life, I think these days Bath has got the bigger claim to be her home
and that’s not going to change.”
But oh no you didn’t, coo the Chawtonites.
Louise West, education manager of the museum, takes a different view. She
said: “It was in this house, in this village, that Austen changed the
face of the English novel, so Chawton is incredibly important on an
international level. If you want to see Jane Austen’s true home then come to
Chawton, not Bath. What they’ve got in Bath is nice but we have her
possessions and the home she lived in and the desk she wrote at.”
Tom Carpenter, a museum trustee, added: “They appear to be laying down
the gauntlet. How does one gently correct them? Chawton was the place she
called home. From a literary point of view, it all happened here.”
Laying down the gauntlet, indeed! Do correct them gently, dear sir, and then invite them to tea and a roundtable discussion about who was the bigger scoundrel: John Willoughby or Frank Churchill? (It’s always that dreadful Willoughby.) Why is it that fights over Jane Austen are just as delightful and subversively dignified as her witty, charged books?