As much as London stimulated me, I felt a peace when we left it for the country. As Laura and I drove on the highway to Chawton Friday afternoon with new friends whom we had met online, it felt much like the highways here, only smaller and busier and, of course, reversed. All those roundabouts were a new experience, too! Though surrounded by fields and trees, there were houses, farms, and small towns always in view. The sky was cloudy, and the rich greenery seemed to infuse the air with moisture and freshness.
The drive went quickly because we were busy getting to know one another (it was one of the sweetest hours of the whole trip!), so before I knew it, we had entered Chawton and a red-brick Georgian house slid by the corner of my eye. Wait! That’s it! That’s her house already! You see, Chawton is where Jane Austen’s last home still stands. It’s a large, square, homey building right on the corner in the center of town; you can’t miss it. Across the road is the car park, and just like some of the characters in my novel about England, I couldn’t wait to park and go explore what is now Jane Austen’s House Museum. This was the place Jane Austen loved for eight years and where her creativity flourished: here she prepared all six of her novels for publication.
To describe it further, let me use a passage from my novel England Adventure:
The bricks were mottled red, orange, and brown, the roof dark-brown shingles. It was three-storied, with only two little dormer windows in the garret story sticking out from the roof. There was a delicate wooden fence in front, a brick wall along the side, and a lawn. The flowers and shrubs around everything were too diminutive to do more than decorate; they didn’t creep up the walls and pull the house down into its natural environment. But it was picturesque nonetheless, even sagacious with its earthy coloring and without the flourishes of overgrown blooms.
|Jane Austen's writing table|
It’s a whole, small complex, with outbuildings and gardens. It’s wonderfully old and cozy inside, with creaky hardwood floors, little rooms, and furnishings much like it would have possessed when Jane Austen, her mother, her sister, and her friend lived there two hundred years ago. Some of the items actually belonged to the family and Jane herself, while others were only similar. If you love this author, you will love her house and her village. The coziness spreads to the yard and outward to all the surroundings. Walking down the road to St. Nicholas Church made me imagine all the Sundays the Chawton Cottage ladies trod the same path.
We left reluctantly; it was getting late. I will remember it as perhaps my favorite of all the days in England.
But Laura and I had almost the complete adventure to look forward to: eleven more days! We went to Oxford the next day and oh, what a beautiful place. It’s the ultimate university town, with classic architecture, tree-shaded avenues, and interesting things going on all the time. Oxford University’s thirty-eight colleges are scattered throughout; I probably walked by several without knowing what they were. Every building has its own character. We weren’t there for long, but we got to do several cool things. We ate at the seventeenth-century pub, The Eagle and Child (or the “Bird and Baby”), in the very room (“The Rabbit Room”) where C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien met with a group of friends called the Inklings, sharing conversation and their writings. I could easily imagine the creative energy coursing through that dark, pleasant room when those men gathered. We visited Blackwell’s Bookshop, a three-storied establishment right in the center of town. It was quite crowded when we were there! (It seemed to me that England has a bigger concentration of bookstores than here, and they were better frequented, too; Blackwell’s was the biggest of all that we visited.) On Sunday morning, I attended a service at Christ Church, Oxford’s cathedral, and that was the perfect way to say goodbye to this lovely city.
|One of the colleges, I believe|
|In the Rabbit Room with Tolkien's and Lewis's books|
|The Camera at the Bodleian Library|
|“The Bridge of Sighs," part of Hertford College, somewhat resembles the Bridge of Sighs in Venice|
|Christ Church Cathedral|