At Home with the Austens
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.