On an overcast Friday morning in the middle of April, I found myself wandering down the main street in an English village named Chawton. There were no sidewalks, so I walked along the side of the narrow road, constantly checking over my shoulder to ensure I didn’t get clipped by a passing car. My anxiety was short-lived; I was only accompanied by the occasional car, driven by residents who all smiled and waved.
Continuing on my stroll, I passed by pastures filled with grazing sheep and newborn lambs. Thatched-roof cottages adorned with striking amethyst and yellow flowers, and endearing names like “Joy Cottage,” lined the street. I felt as if I had been transported back in time; back to a period when I would have been concerned about getting sideswiped by a horse-drawn carriage rather than an automobile, and where I wouldn’t have been reaching for my iPhone to take two hundred pictures of the frolicking lambs.
After a bit of aimless wandering through the beautiful English countryside, I finally approached my destination: Chawton House – Jane Austen’s home. Chawton House is not only the place where the majority of Jane’s major works were edited and written; it is also the place where Jane was happiest during her life. When I learned that we were required to plan our own independent research trip as a part of our study abroad curriculum, I knew that I wanted to embark on a Jane Austen pilgrimage.
Ever since I picked up my first Austen novel years ago, I found myself captivated by her characters, their stories, and their relationships, most notably, Anne Elliot in Persuasion, and the burgeoning romance between Lizzie Bennett and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. After spending a day and a half traveling through Bath and Winchester – two other places where Jane lived during her lifetime – I ended up in Chawton: the heart of Jane’s England.
To say that I had an English major geek-out moment upon entering the Jane’s house was an understatement – I actually teared up as I entered this sacred literary space. During my exploration, I stumbled upon Jane’s original writing desk in the dining room. It was tucked away against the wall near a large paneled window, which offered a view across the street, where a small tea place and a parking lot now reside. In Jane’s time, this view likely looked out over a serene pastoral landscape.
I crouched down next to Jane’s writing desk in the dining room, and stared out the window, so that I could see the view Jane had as she was penning her famous works. I pictured Jane sitting at this small desk, quill pen in hand, sunlight now shining in, and I tried to imagine what was going through her mind. It was incredible to realize that all of her timeless works were crafted and edited at this tiny round table looking out at the countryside.
Visiting Chawton offered me an exciting, yet also tranquil escape from the tourist commotion of Bath, and even Winchester. I explored the home of one of the most famous authors of all-time, but I also felt immersed in the pastoral beauty of England – something I had not previously experienced. During my brief stay in Chawton, I felt most at home, like Jane, in this quaint, rural village, surrounded by bleating sheep, the soft chirping of birds, and a vast array of flowers.