July 18th 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen. Now regarded as one of our best-loved writers, Jane Austen was little known during her lifetime but in this 200th anniversary year you will find plenty of opportunities to celebrate her life and work.
A brief history
Jane Austen, the seventh of eight children, was born in 1775 at Steventon Rectory in Hampshire to her clergyman father the Reverend George Austen and her mother Cassandra. The Rectory no longer exists but there is a lime tree planted by her brother James which still marks the spot where the house once stood.
Apart from a brief spell in Bath where she moved to with her family in 1801 when her father retired, she spent most of her life in Hampshire. After the death of her father in 1805, Jane, her mother. her sister Cassandra and friend Martha Lloyd were forced to spend some time living in lodgings before eventually settling in Chawton in the heart of Hampshire. They were given the use of a 17th century cottage on the Chawton Estate which had been inherited by her brother Edward. This house is now home to the Jane Austen’s House Museum.
It was at this house that Jane flourished as a writer. After preparing and eating breakfast she would go and sit at a little table by the window in the dining parlour where she worked on her manuscripts. Four of her books (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma) were published in her lifetime but Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published posthumously. Her seventh novel Sanditon was never completed.
In 1816 Jane’s health began to deteriorate and in May 1817 she and her sister moved to College Street in Winchester so as Jane could be nearer her physician. She died on July 18th 1817. After her death her sister Cassandra wrote “Never was a human being more sincerely mourned … than was this dear creature”. Jane is buried in the north aisle of Winchester Cathedral and although the inscription on her tomb makes no mention of her literary talent, a brass tablet was subsequently added with the words “known to many by her writings”.
From obscurity to one of the most widely-read authors
When she died in 1817 at the age of just 41, she had only been a published author for six years and she was virtually unknown. Mary Guyatt, the curator of the Jane Austen’s House Museum, notes that “it was the 1870 memoir by her nephew James Edward that established Jane’s reputation as one of the greatest writers in history”. This marked the turning point for Jane Austen’s legacy as a writer going from virtual obscurity to becoming one of the most widely read and influential literary figures to this day. While she was alive she only earned £600 from all of her books but two centuries on her books have sold in their millions and have been translated into over 30 different languages. Her work has also inspired many adaptations for film and television.
Jane Austen wrote about what she knew. She used fiction to describe what life was like at the time for her social class which was very rigid and very much more disposed towards men. She used irony, cynicism, wit, social commentary and observation to create stories about the roles of women, especially in the pursuit of finding a rich husband to secure their security and social standing. However, as women could not inherit wealth or property, many were eventually left destitute when their husbands died. Jane herself never married.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” The opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice.
Yet despite this need for financial security, Jane created female characters which not only aspired to marrying for love rather than money, she also created characters who wanted to be happy – something which was not considered important in Regency times. In Regency England women played a subservient role but this was something Jane Austen was never afraid to address and challenge with her wit and irony.
Commemorative £2 coin and new £10 note
In recognition of her contribution to English literature the Royal Mint has created a specially minted commemorative Jane Austen £2 coin. In her anniversary year she is also to be featured on the new £10 note. Since 1970 the Bank of England has featured characters on their bank notes to celebrate people “that have shaped British thought, innovation, leadership, values and society” and so it seems entirely appropriate that Jane Austen should be one of those people considered worthy of commemorating.
Some places to visit and things to do
One of the most enchanting places to visit during this 200th anniversary year is the Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton. The house has two newly-decorated rooms both of which include replica wallpaper based on fragments of patterns dating from Jane Austen’s day. There are special events happening throughout the year including Jane Austen at the BBC: a celebration in film, TV and radio on Saturday 24th June and a day of talks and workshops both in and around the house and village on Friday 7th July. Check out the Jane Austen’s House Museum website for details about all events.
On the 18th July 2017 a special Evensong is being held at Winchester Cathedral at 5.30pm. Although the service is free to attend, the Cathedral anticipates that a large number of people will want to be there to mark this significant anniversary so they will be issuing tickets to help with the seating. The free tickets have been available since the beginning of March so don’t waste any time reserving your seats.
For a whole week in June you can immerse yourself in everything Jane Austen and Regency by going along to the Jane Austen Regency Week. This annual 9-day festival is held in Alton and Chawton in Hampshire every year and this year will be on from the 17th to the 25th June 2017. There are 29 events for you to choose from including talks, singing, walks, dancing, house and garden tours, embroidery workshops, cream teas, film showing, cricket, supper and music.
If you fancy celebrating in true Regency style, then the Grand Jane Austen Ball on the 27th July is is a must. A Ball for Jane Austen – An English Rose will be hosted by The Hampshire Regency Dancers and will be held in Winchester’s magnificent Guildhall. The ticket price of £80 includes a reception drink, a two course buffet dinner and wine. The ball is also part of a full Jane Austen Weekend, including a dance workshop, walks and a special Sunday tour by coach to Chawton and Steventon. The organisers expect the demand for tickets to be high and so early booking is recommended.
For details of all events happening throughout Hampshire visit JANE AUSTEN 200 A life in Hampshire.
Although Jane Austen only lived in Bath for a few years, Bath also embraces and celebrates the life of this much-loved author and there are many events commemorating the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen. On Saturday 1st July 2017 The Jane Austen Festival Bicentenary Regency Costumed Summer Ball will be held at the Guildhall in Bath. And, on Saturday 9th September you can take part in The 2017 Grand Regency Costumed Charity Promenade. This event marks the official opening of the Jane Austen Festival. Participants are asked to meet at he Marquee on the Royal Crescent Lawn at 10.30am (ticket price £10 per adult). At 11.00am the great procession will start making its way through the streets of this beautiful city. With an estimated 500 people all in 18th Century costume this promises to be a record-breaking event.
While you’re in Bath make sure you save some time to visit The Jane Austen Centre. The Jane Austen Centre houses a permanent exhibition which explores Jane’s time in Bath and the influence that this beautiful city had on her books, characters and personal life. Together with its Regency Tea Room and Gift Shop, the Centre has become one of the most popular celebrations of Jane Austen attracting thousands of visitors each year from around the globe. You will find full details of all the events celebrating the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen at Jane Austen 200.
Sense and Sensibility: Celebrating Jane Austen and the Romantic Idyll
If you live in or near Dorchester in Oxfordshire, there is a real Jane Austen musical treat in store for you. The Waynflete Singers from Winchester are giving a special midsummer concert celebrating the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen in the historic setting of Dorchester Abbey on Saturday 17th June. The first half of this special concert will feature new arrangements of songs and glees from Austen’s personal music collection, interspersed with readings from her work and keyboard music of the period.
To find out more about the event and to book tickets, visit the Waynflete Singers website.