Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Playing at Chawton - Post 3.

Syrie James as Jane Austen, me as Charlotte Bronte, frolicking on the grounds of Chawton House library pre-performance of my play, "You are Passionate, Jane."

From my journal:

Awoke at the George, packed and puttered while keeping half an eye on Antiques Roadshow - the real thing, with English antiques of course, a treat to wake up to. After my excellent English breakfast, my ordered taxi came and whisked me to Waterloo, flat fee 13 pounds. I was an hour early but had an Italian cappuccino while waiting for the Alton train. Now on train to Alton. Beautiful sunny day, English countryside and fluffy clouds and sheep whisking by...

Alton House Hotel

Reached Alton at noon, and walked up to the hotel with my bag, only a short walk. Nice unpretentious place, quiet, comfortable.  Syrie and Bill had arrived just before me, and we had an excited reunion. They'd rented a car, so we immediately drove to Chawton, a mile away, having one of those conversations about driving in England. Bill had been experiencing all the same problems I did driving here last autumn - the narrow roads, difficulty of judging width of car and who jumps out of the way first, other drivers expecting you to do it at the speed of light, when to back up, etc., etc. They have excellent teamwork though, and she's a fine, quick navigator who can use a Garmin - unlike me. 

Syrie and me at Chawton Cottage

Cherry trees in the lane between the cottage and Chawton House Library

 Chawton was looking sublime, piercingly green fields spangled with little white daisies and yellow buttercups under a sunny sky, blossoming trees. Visited cottage and shop quickly, then we drove to Gilbert White's house in Selborne, four miles from Chawton, where the naturalist lived and wrote The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, a few years before Jane Austen came to live at Chawton. I'd been before, delighted in the book, and wanted to visit again because the grounds and the hanging woods are so beautiful, and I was eager to show it all to Syrie and Bill.

A cottage in Selborne village

Having lunch at the Gilbert White house cafe


I knew we'd get a beautiful lunch at the cafe, and we did - thick slices of English country ham and cheddar, beautiful fresh cloudy apple juice, and tea and a fresh Victoria sponge.

The Gilbert White House, Selborne

After a shortish tour of the house, we headed for the door as one, tempted by the ultra green lawns, trees, and flowers. As in Mansfield Park:

"... the young people, meeting with an outward door, temptingly open on a flight of steps which led immediately to turf and shrubs, and all the sweets of pleasure–grounds, as by one impulse, one wish for air and liberty, all walked out."

This description suited the present circumstances too:

"The lawn, bounded on each side by a high wall, contained beyond the first planted area a bowling–green, and beyond the bowling–green a long terrace walk, backed by iron palisades, and commanding a view over them into the tops of the trees of the wilderness immediately adjoining."

On the grounds of the Gilbert White house

We then hiked straight up the gorgeous Zig-Zag (switchbacks carved in 1753) and walked in the shady hanging woods. Long walk, my legs and Syrie's back were rather sore, but it was worth it! Drove back to hotel, rested, then ate fish and chips, drank cider, had lovely soak in huge tub. Going to bed - my play is tomorrow!

The Zig-Zag

View as we climbed the Zig-Zag 

Top of the Zig-Zag

View from the Hanging Woods - English verdure.

After a good sleep and breakfast at the Alton House Hotel, we drove back to Chawton. That is, Bill dropped me and Syrie there, for he was going to Portsmouth for the day. The Bronte Bicentenary conference was beginning, and I attended the morning talks, but decided to go for a walk in the afternoon, before dinner and the play. Started with the church, and visiting the graves of Mrs. Austen and Cassandra. 

The two Cassandras, under a lilac tree...

Past the flowery fields, I walked into Chawton village.

Was amused by this pretty cottage, with its ceramic cat atop.

Closer view of the ceramic cat

And a real cat, the one that lives at Chawton Cottage. I didn't get its name, as it gave me an exceedingly disapproving gimlet fish eyed stare; and no wonder, poor soul, with the number of American tourists it sees.

Striped tulips in the Chawton cottage garden

Garden flowers in the house

A little sustenance at Cassandra's Cup. Delicious tea, scones, jam, clotted cream...

And then it was time to walk back to Chawton House Library, to get ready for dinner and for the play, which was to be the after dinner entertainment.

Syrie and I in our costumes. She makes her own beautiful Regency gowns. I'm wearing a silk Chico's Victorian style jacket, long black chiffon skirt, button-up boots, and my grandmother's locket.

The lower room was done up as a theater

How many theaters have windows looking out onto beautiful wisteria?

The audience starts to assemble

Syrie and I take our places before the curtain

And the play begins! It takes place in Heaven. Jane Austen is the arbiter who decides which literary figures will ascend - and she doesn't approve of Charlotte Bronte at all. So, they must needs have a dialogue...

"You are Passionate, Jane" (quote from Mrs. Reed in Jane Eyre)

An authoritative Jane...

An indignant Charlotte...

"What is a daguerreotype?"

"Charlotte, Charlotte, is that resentment you are breathing?"

"I see that I am nearer Heaven than I thought!"

"You said you wished to see your sisters..."

Curtain call for the "Author!" Why - that's me!

Next morning I took a peaceful restful walk in the pastures behind the house...

And sat in this seat, and thought it all over...

Photo by Gillian Dow


Unknown said...

How wonderful, Diana! Thank you for sharing the photos and the story. I wish I could have been there to see you and Syrie perform. Great pictures of the two of you! I also enjoyed getting a glimpse of Gilbert White's house, which I've never visited. Must add that to the list for a future trip. Lovely views from your hike up the Zig-Zag as well.

Diana Birchall said...

Thank you so much, Sarah, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I've enjoyed so many of your beautiful blogs - it's a nice conversation!

Diane said...

Sounds like the perfect time of year to be there, enjoying your success as a playwright!

Barbara said...

Congratulations playwright and actor! Looks to have been great fun - which I know it was. Years and years, decades, in fact, since I climbed the Hanger at Selbourne. Must get there again too now I have easier access from Surrey. Lovely happy pictures.Thank you.

Ellen said...

Cats, food, flowers and sheep. Gillian took a fine photo of you -- very nice that one. Yes a garmin in England -- or GPS, is just the thing. Can't help against narrow roads but at least you know you are not risking your life or car on a wrong one. Jim and I had one the last time we went. How did we ever find anything before?

It was interesting to see White's house -- I'm not surprised they offer a scumptious lunch.


Diana Birchall said...

Diane, thanks for commenting - I'm trying to convey what a joy it was! Barbara, I've just posted about our shared adventures, and I hope you like it and approve! Ellen, I'll be looking forward to reading about your own adventures.