Finding ourselves in Winchester England filled me with mixed emotions. We were thrilled to be able to stay in a town so closely related to Jane Austen; however knowing that this was the last place that she resided in before she passed away at the young age of 41 also made our stay here feel quite bittersweet. As a Janeite, Winchester during the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s passing feels like a town still admiring its beloved author. Whether you walk into Winchester Cathedral, where Jane is buried within the floor of its Cathedral, or you visit one of the exhibits in the center of this town, it’s easy to find reminders of her life in so many places.
It was such a treat that the BBC found a Mercure Wessex Hotel in Winchester with such an accommodating staff who made us feel like special guests from the very start of our stay with them. We had flowers, candy, and a book (Thank you, Richard George!) to welcome us to Winchester in our hotel room and before we knew it we were able to get ready and explore the town on our way to the train station as we headed to Bath. The town of Winchester itself has a wonderful tight-knit community feeling to it, especially as a great number of vendors set up shop to sell handmade creations in the town. You definitely have a feeling that this is a community that is proud of its history and the way they preserve their ties to Jane Austen really made me feel even more affection for this community.
As Winchester Cathedral is one of the largest cathedrals in all of England, it seems only fitting that Jane Austen is laid to rest here. A few blocks away from the Cathedral is College Street, where the small residence can be found where Jane lived with Cassandra before she passed away. The residence today is a private home, therefore you can only visit the building’s exterior if you want to see this place.
The town has quite a few lovely events taking place throughout this year to mark the 200th anniversary of Jane’s passing, and we were fortunate to be able to visit the one taking place near the center of town titled, The Mysterious Miss Austen, which opened on May 13, 2017, and it closes on July 24, 2017, at The Gallery in Winchester Discovery Centre.
Dung and I were able to visit this exhibit with Jenetta James, Joana Starnes, and Caitlin Williams, and what a treat it was from start to finish! Unfortunately, the exhibit had very strict rules about photographing Jane’s objects, so I am unable to show you many of the objects that were there in the exhibit, but I did find some images of these objects from the Internet that were on display at the exhibit.
When you walk into the exhibit, there’s a really lovely video that is supposed to represent Jane as she’s getting ready to go out for the day. I was mesmerized by this video, finding myself caught up in the possibility that this really captured what Jane may have looked like while she was alive.
The curators of this exhibit were able to have five portraits on display that are either creations of Jane Austen or are possible creations of Jane, all proudly displayed in this one place. I loved seeing these portraits displayed together I I tried to imagine whether or not these images are truly of the mysterious Miss Jane Austen. I have to say the resemblances to Jane are quite striking and I like to believe they all represent what Jane looked like while she was alive.
What many scholars believe is Jane’s silk pelisse is also on exhibit, and this piece of attire shows us a close physical representation of what Jane possibly looked like. Scholars have studied the pelisse for its quality, it’s measurements, and its usage. This website tells the story of how the pelisse came to be believed as a former possession of Jane’s, along with how it was returned to the Austen family. This is a lovely video that shows how Jane’s pelisse plays a starring role at this exhibit.
What do we know about Jane’s measurements from the pelisse? This description here paints us a picture of Jane’s possible measurements:
Taking all the above internal and external evidence together, what can the replica pelisse contribute to discussions about Austen’s appearance, and how do records of her physicality tally with the pelisse? The woman for whom this pelisse was made, who, for the purposes of this discussion we assume was Jane Austen, had approximate measurements of a 31 to 33 inch bust, a 24 inch waist, and 33 to 34 inch hips, and was between 5 feet 6 inches and 5 feet 8 inches tall, adding up to a present UK size four to six. The pelisse was made to be worn over other garments — a gown, petticoat, stays and chemise at the very least — hence the leeway in measurements. There is also some fluidity as the pelisse does not fasten precisely, but relies on the cut of the fronts to show where to line it up with the collar.
The pelisse was made for a woman of between 5 feet 6 inches and 5 foot 9 inches in height, with a slight bust, waist and torso, and narrow shoulders and arms for someone of her height. She wore stays from early childhood which shaped her body into a more rounded shape, away from the ribcage’s natural oval.
Through evidence from her own letters, Jane Austen was known to like brown gowns, to have a silk pelisse in 1814, to need 7½ yards of fabric to make a gown (albeit over a decade earlier and thus in different fashion), to be interested in maintaining a respectable, reasonably up-to-date appearance, and to be a tall woman. Recollections of her appearance by family, friends and acquaintance confirm her height and frequently note a thin figure. Finally, the pelisse came from Austen’s family and has the provenance, although indefinite, of having been hers. Based on these factors, it is highly likely this pelisse was indeed once owned and worn by Jane Austen. (Reconstructing Jane Austen’s Silk Pelisse, 1812–1814 by Hilary Davidson)
I highly recommend a visit to this exhibit for anyone who is able to be in Winchester during these dates.
Other fascinating loans for this exhibit include a rare, photo-illustrated copy of American writer Oscar Fay Adams Story of Jane Austen from 1897, which is traveling to Winchester from Goucher College, Baltimore along with other items from its Jane Austen Memorabilia Collection. A Friendship Book belonging to Rev. James Stanier Clarke, the Librarian of the Prince Regent (later King George IV), and an acquaintance of Jane’s contains an 1815 portrait that some believe to be of the author (the first portrait in the exhibition). First editions of her works and fascinating personal letters, early illustrations for her works and images of Winchester in the early 19th century, plus items of the kind Jane would have experienced in her day to day life will all complete this fascinating survey of the renowned writer. Bringing a contemporary view, Grayson Perry’s Jane Austen in a ceramic vase (2009, Manchester City Art Gallery) is evidence of her lasting legacy and influence on the arts. (Jane-200/ The Mysterious Miss Austen)
On one of the rainy days that we were in Winchester, we were able to see another exhibit called, Rain Jane, which is a stunning trail of 12 Jane Austen quotes appearing only in the rain in 39 locations across Winchester city centre. A 40th quote is installed temporarily in the College Street garden opposite the house where she died. 12 quotes magically appear only when it rains, in 39 different locations across the city centre and when the quotes are worn from footfall, they will disappear, a fleeting tribute to an author whose life was cut short too young. – See more at http://janeausten200.co.uk/downloads#sthash.x5j7CQQc.dpuf.
We also visited Winchester Cathedral together, which also has a touching exhibit to also mark this special anniversary. As one of the largest cathedrals in England, it certainly feels like a fitting place for Jane to be buried. We were able to see her gravestone, which was written by her brother, Henry Austen, yet which makes no reference to her work as a writer.
Many years later, a second and quite beautiful memorial was also created near her gravestone to celebrate her memory as a writer. Lastly, a third memorial was installed for Jane, when a request for donations was made in 1898 in the form of a public subscription. This memorial window was installed in Jane Austen’s memory and was designed by Charles Eager Kempe. It was placed in the north wall directly above Jane Austen’s memorial tablet.
Last, but not least, we ate at The Old Vine, which is also an inn from the 18th Century. We had a delicious dinner, which included some of the daily specials, and the service was also great.
It was really a dream to be able to spend an evening with three of our favorite JAFF writers, who are also great conversationalists pertaining to anything involving Jane Austen. When we finally parted after several hours of drinking and dining, I knew we had made some really great connections and I hope my future includes another memorable evening with these witty and generous ladies!
It’s Giveaway Time!
I did my best to bring back some fun goodies from my trip for my Just Jane 1813 readers. The giveaway for this week includes various brochures from Winchester to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of Austen’s passing and some fun treats for readers too.
The winner will receive all of the brochures pictured below, as well as this yummy tin of cookies and one autographed readers’ choice paperback book from Jenetta James, also pictured below. To enter this giveaway, please leave a comment on this post no later than midnight, ET, on July 2, 2017, and the winner will be announced on this blog on July 3, 2017.
Get ready this week for a new post from my trip and a new giveaway too! Thank you to all of my readers for your lovely comments along the way. They have made sharing this trip with you so much fun, as well as a big thank you to the ladies who met us along the way, and of course, to Richard George and the crew from the BBC. Your friendships fill my heart with love and laughter!