When you think of Jane Austen, Devon is probably not the first thing which comes to mind. It is more likely to be the novels she wrote, the characters she created and the world she and they inhabited. Elizabeth and Mr Darcy of Pride and Prejudice, Anne and Captain Wentworth of Persuasion, Elinor and Edward Ferris of Sense and Sensibility to name but a few.
She has captured the imagination of millions of readers over the years and given the more modern reader a glimpse into the past. You can find out more about Jane and the world she lived in through our library.In 1870 her nephew, James Edward Austen Leigh, wrote “More than half a century has passed away since I, the youngest of the mourners, attended the funeral of my dear aunt Jane in Winchester Cathedral” His Memoir of his “dear aunt Jane”, which also contains a deleted chapter of Persuasion along with copies of Lady Susan and The Watsons, is just one item amongst many which allows us to explore Jane’s life and England of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and the Regency Period. Life In Regency England by R.J White [914.2/ENG/WHI] is one of a series of books on life in England during different historical periods. The general collection contains other items covering some of the activities people took part in throughout history. This included visiting the stately homes of England whilst on holiday, just as Elizabeth and the Gardiners did in Pride and Prejudice which lead her back to Mr Darcy and Pemberly. There are also more general history books of England which cover the Regency period as well as items about Hampshire, where Jane spent most of her life, including 5 volumes of the Victoria County History of England covering Hampshire plus an index.
One of the gems of our general history section is The Beauties of England and Wales a series of volumes published in the early part of the 19th century. The volume on Hampshire was published in 1804 when Jane would have been in residence in Bath. Had Jane read the volume on Hampshire she would more than likely have recognised the descriptions of her home county and recognised the illustrations, including this one of Winchester Cathedral.There are also history and historic guidebooks about Winchester on the shelves which give an idea of what the city was like in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Our Library Collection contains a local section dedicated to our neighbouring counties of Somerset, Dorset and Cornwall. These sections include items about some of the places where Jane stayed and set her books. In fact several of her books feature places in the Southwest. Persuasion sees Anne visit both Bath in Somerset and Lyme Regis in Dorset. Closer to home the Dashwood family in Sense and Sensibility end up living in Devon when they are forced to leave Norland. Over the years Devon has played host to several film and tv adaptations of Jane Austen’s books. Once of the most recent being the BBC production of Sense and Sensibility which used a cottage on the Hartland Abbey estate as the Devon home of the Dashwoods. Jane, herself spent time in south Devon visiting family and her time there may well have given the inspiration for many of the places in Sense and Sensibility.
Jane wasn’t the only writer in her family, James Edward Austen Leigh was a contributor to a periodical called The Loiterer early copies of which can be found in amongst the general literature section of our library shelves. His biography and memoir can also be found on the general bigoraphy shelves not far from the book he wrote about his aunt.