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At Home with the Austens

May 2, 2012

The Dining Room is now host to our explanatory exhibition about this year’s theme at the Museum: At Home With the Austens. We thought you might like to see it, as it explains a little about what life at Chawton was like for Jane Austen, her sister Cassandra, their mother, Mrs George Austen and their friend, Martha Lloyd.

Their domestic life at Chawton was settled and, in the main, calm: it was this atmosphere of routine and peace that allowed Jane Austen to revise and compose all her six published novels while living here at Chawton.

It is important, therefore, for us to try to understand what life was like in this cottage when Jane Austen lived here. Her brother, Edward Knight, owned the cottage, which was part of his Chawton estate and, in 1809, he offered it to his mother and sisters as a home.

This year the museum’s focus is on this productive, domestic life, and certain aspects of it will be highlighted.

Fashion- this was an important part of Jane Austen’s life as reflected in her letters. Her comments on fashion in them reveal her to have been a woman determined to “keep up appearances” on a limited budget, though, from the evidence of her character, Mrs Allen in Northanger Abbey, she appears to have regarded an obsession with fashion-becoming a fashion victim, if you like- as something to avoid !

Sewing- “Work” as it was then known was an important aspect of ladies accomplishments during Jane Austen’s lifetime and, of course,  it was a very practical skill. We know from her letters that Jane Austen made shirts for her brother, Edward. As an example of the type of “work” she undertook, we have the spectacular patchwork quilt  on show here at the Museum, which you can see in the illustration, above. This was made by Jane, Cassandra and Mrs. Austen

Food- We are lucky not only to have copious references in Jane Austen’s letters to food, but , of course, we also have Martha Lloyd’s manuscript Household Book on show which gives us great insights into the type of food made and eaten in this household. We also have their newly restored kitchen open to visitors, so you can come to see how and where their meals were prepared at Chawton.

Visitors- We know from Jane Austen’s letters that the Austens received many visitors to this cottage, though the life they led here was more retired and family centric than the life they had led in Steventon and Bath.

The Museum has many items on show related to Jane Austen’s friends and family who visited her here.

Health- Home-made remedies were very important at a time when access to an apothecary was expensive and a visit from him could be delayed by distance and travelling conditions. Martha Lloyd’s Household Book contains many remedies for illnesses that could be prepared at the cottage from ingredients that were readily to hand.

We do hope you will be able to visit the Museum this year to see this exhibit and the many accompanying item on show, some which are rarely seen. If you can’t visit us, then we hope you will enjoy looking at these images, which can all be enlarged by clicking on them, so that you can see the detail.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Lila permalink
    May 2, 2012 2:25 pm

    This is a nice look on the family life, thank you 🙂 It seems rather cozy and I’m sure it wasn’t boring. Jane always mentions in her books that a person of lively disposition will always find occupation and diversion, for her mind as well as for her hands… And I know it to be so :}

    You didn’t mention garden… It is obvious JA loved nature and time spent on fresh air, in their own garden must have been an enjoyable activity as well (while technically it was still ‘at home’) 🙂 Perhaps some gardening was done too. What woman could resist? =)

    • jfwakefield permalink*
      May 4, 2012 3:41 pm

      Thank you, Lila, we are so glad you liked the exhibit. More to come, so do look out for the posts on this year’s theme 😉

  2. cathyallen permalink
    May 2, 2012 5:02 pm

    The person who mounts these displays does a marvelous job of it. This was wonderful, and once again, because of your enlarge-able pictures and back ground information, I’ve been able to read it all and learn new things, even though I can’t travel to Chawton to see it in person. Thank you!

  3. May 2, 2012 5:32 pm

    This is really good! the various occupations and a look at the household of the austen family was fun!

  4. May 3, 2012 3:07 pm

    I am sure this exiibition is fantastic! I wish I could be there again!

  5. kfield2 permalink
    May 4, 2012 4:57 am

    Julie, this is the first time I’ve used your “click on the picture” feature and I really enjoyed seeing the posters/displays and their texts up close. I was there 2 summers ago and every fiber of my being wants to come back. The closest I can get is this blog and the online gift shop, for now, anyway. BTW, My friends, who are twins, who are my Jane Austen e-mail buddies here in the DC area, received matcing tea cups and saucers for their birthdays from the shop and they were delighted! What a pleasure to order them and give them! I will always treasure my day at Chawton and look forward to when I can return!

  6. May 30, 2012 2:39 pm

    Very enjoyable and informative, thank you Julie.


  1. Writing with a Quill Pen, at Home with the Austens « Jane Austen's House Museum Blog

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