Perhaps you have noticed the trend; my last few blog posts on documentaries have all been presented the same person: If Walls Could Talk: The Living Room, and The Kitchen, as well as The Age of the Regency. In all these documentaries, history comes alive through the presenter interacting with historical objects, buildings and landscapes. So, to continue this pattern, last week I watched Jane Austen: Behind Closed Doors with – yes, you guessed it! – Lucy Worsley.
As an avid Austen fan, particularly of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, I find it fascinating to learn more about Jane Austen’s life and to be able to link events, places, and people that she encountered, to her novels. This documentary aims to tell the story of Jane Austen by visiting the houses that Jane herself stayed in, and often refers to her letters. These, by the way, are freely available online through Project Gutenburg if, like me, you’re keen to read accounts of Jane Austen’s life penned by herself!
6 things you might not know about Jane Austen
Jane Austen was born in 1775 and her first home was in a small village Stevenson. Her father was the rector and ran a boys boarding school at the house.
Jane’s first love, named Tom Lefroy, was an aspiring lawyer as well as the nephew of Jane’s friend Anne Lefroy who lived not too far from Jane at Ashe Rectory. Despite some serious flirtation, the attachment came to nothing as Tom was sent away by his family.
Jane’s brother, Edward, was adopted by the Knight family. They lived at Godmersham Park which he later inherited. Jane often stayed there to help look after her nieces and nephews. It was here that she wrote several short plays such as The Visit. This was a comedy about a house visit which went awry in several unexpected ways – what would happen if several guests arrived to your house and there were not enough chairs? Read the play to find out what happened in Jane’s play!
Jane accepted the proposal of a Mr Harris Bigg-Wither when she was 26 years old. He was to inherit Manydown Park which promised to offer Jane a comfortable life. The next day, however, she turned him down.
The first novel Jane sold was Northanger Abbey, but it wasn’t printed until after her lifetime. In 1811 she had Sense and Sensibility published, followed by Pride and Prejudice. Unfortunately she sold the copyright of these two works to the publishers. They ended up making more money after the success of P & P than they had paid her for the rights.
Jane Austen died in Winchester after moving from Southampton in search of a doctor. She was 41 when she passed away and had only made a total of £650 for her books.
What did Jane write about in her Letters?
Jane hopes that she might receive an ‘offer’…
January 1776: “Our party to Ashe to-morrow night will consist of Edward Cooper, James (for a ball is nothing without him), Buller, who is now staying with us, and I. I look forward with great impatience to it, as I rather expect to receive an offer from my friend in the course of the evening. I shall refuse him, however, unless he promises to give away his white coat.”
A misplaced luggage adventure circa 18th century!
October 1798: “I should have begun my letter soon after our arrival, but for a little adventure which prevented me. After we had been here a quarter of an hour it was discovered that my writing and dressing boxes had been by accident put into a chaise which was just packing off as we came in, and were driven away toward Gravesend in their way to the West Indies. No part of my property could have been such a prize before, for in my writing-box was all my worldly wealth, £7, and my dear Harry’s deputation. Mr. Nottley immediately dispatched a man and horse after the chaise, and in half an hour’s time I had the pleasure of being as rich as ever; they were got about two or three miles off.”
Prefer an easy hair-do? So did Jane!
1798/99: “I have made myself two or three caps to wear of evenings since I came home, and they save me a world of torment as to hairdressing, which at present gives me no trouble beyond washing and brushing, for my long hair is always plaited up out of sight, and my short hair curls well enough to want no papering. I have had it cut lately by Mr. Butler.”
The Behind Closed Doors makes several links between Jane Austen’s novels and her life. If you’re curious, make sure to check it out!