Flowers at Chawton, 1985
It was as long ago as 1984 that I first attempted to write in imitation of Jane Austen's "voice" (which I hasten to fervently and categorically state is not a possible thing to do), and in that first attempt, won a writing contest in Persuasions, the journal of JASNA (the Jane Austen Society of North America). I channeled Miss Bates, and though I wince at a youthful effort, I'll attach it at the end.
Husband Peter at Chawton Great House, long before it became the Chawton House Library
Faulty and feeble though the effort might have been, I was encouraged by its success, and it was the beginning of my attempts in that direction, which culminated in my writing full blown Jane Austen sequels, Mrs. Darcy's Dilemma and Mrs. Elton in America. The following year, 1985, was not the first time I attended the annual general meeting of the English Jane Austen Society at Chawton, but it was the first time I took pictures.
Peter walking toward the Great House...much quieter place then!
At that time, I believe Lord David Cecil was still Hon. Chairman, and Tony Trollope and the Countess of Huntington were much in evidence; it was very much the old guard. These long-ago meetings were perhaps the most quintessentially English occasions I'd ever intruded upon; my husband and I were, I believe, the only Americans present, and it was a smaller and more low key affair than the meetings are today.
The tents, as they were then. Smaller.
Maggie Lane, Lyndall Gordan and her husband, and Brian Southam, 1985
This was many years before Sandy Lerner conceived of turning the "great house" into Chawton House Library, and the whole place, achingly lovely, was in a state of summery sleepiness and old world ways. I remember the Countess introducing Lord David Cecil, and using an upper class old world trill, she intoned, "Will the Chairman please r-r-r-ise." Fortunately I still have some pictures from that day, and will share them here. And, having just returned from the 2011 meeting with more pictures, I invite you to contrast and compare the difference between Chawton meetings, a quarter century apart.
Alwyn Austen, family descendant; Professor Gaye King, and me
Later, Professor Ed Copeland and I examine the famous painting of Jane Austen with her back turned, done by Cassandra. It was at that time kept in a drawer in Alwyn's house! Nowadays it's under lock and key in a museum, you may be sure!
Jean Bowden, long time curator of Chawton Cottage, with Lord David Cecil
Lyndall Gordon, myself, her husband Siamon Gordon, Gaye King, and David Nokes
And now, some more up-to-date pictures. Below, members of our panel at the 2009 Chawton House Library conference, "New Directions of Jane Austen Studies."
A larger tent, more people...and they do seem younger. Many more Americans, too.
An Austen icon, Deirdre Le Faye, 2009
Chawton farm, 2009
And now up to days present, here I am at the Chawton meeting once more, in July 2011, in the lovely, mature garden.