Top 10 Spiritual Jane Austen Places
By Lori Smith
When she quit her job to pursue a writing career, Lori Smith fulfilled a dream by visiting all of the places close to Jane Austen's heart. Smith toured spots that the English author of novels such as "Pride and Prejudice," "Emma," and "Sense and Sensibility," lived, loved, and featured in her books.
Nearly 200 years after her death, Austen's popularity continues to grow--blooming into a steady variety of book and movie adaptations and even a Masterpiece Theater showcase in 2008. Now you can travel to the beloved writer's world.
Click here to start your journey into Jane Austen's world.
Lori Smith is the author of "A Walk with Jane Austen: A Journey Into Adventure, Love, and Faith" and the author of two blogs, Jane Austen Quote of the Day and Following Jane Austen.
<b>Map of England</b><br> Where Lori Smith traveled
Christ Church Cathedral
I began and ended my trip with evensong at beautiful Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford--where Jane's father and brother James were ordained. It was deeply moving to me, especially in my exhaustion at the end of the trip, to sit in that small cathedral, with its air of beauty and holiness, and hear the choir sing the psalms. "The Lord is my light and my salvation," they sang, "whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1).
I thought of Jane's evening prayers: "Give us Grace Almighty Father, so to pray, as to deserve to be heard, to address thee with our hearts, as with our lips. Thou art every where present."
Lyme Park (aka. Pemberley)
I'm officially a member of the Cult of Colin Firth. Matthew MacFadyen fans have his Pemberley, the gorgeous Chatsworth estate with its acres of gardens, where he snogs Lizzy by the fountain, but what better place for me to pay homage than Lyme Park, Colin Firth's Pemberley in the BBC version of "Pride & Prejudice"?
It took me hours to get here by bus (best to rent a car if you want to see Derbyshire), but it was well worth it. You can no longer see the place where they filmed Darcy diving into the lake, but you'll find the steps he runs down on his way to see Elizabeth and the paths they walked.
Jane didn't enjoy living in Bath (the family moved there when her father retired), but I couldn't help loving it, and one of my favorite things was the Roman Baths themselves, which date back to the time of Christ.
In Jane's day the baths were the center of the social scene--people went to drink the water and walk in the Pump Room or to bathe in hopes of being cured from various ailments.
Unfortunately, you can't go in the water anymore, but you can restore your spirit at the new Thermae Bath Spa which also uses natural spring waters.
Unfortunately, Lyme was cold and rainy when I was there, but still, to "linger and gaze" at the sea is a gift in any weather. Jane wrote in "Persuasion" of the environs around Lyme--of "Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country...its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, and for sitting in unwearied contemplation."
Alas, I was too weary to find Charmouth, but spent a bit of time watching the flow of the tide, lingering in contemplation. The ocean is always comforting to me--a place to walk and pray and simply be.
Jane is buried at Winchester Cathedral, a building she loved. She died here at the age of 41, in a house on College Street behind the Cathedral. It's thought that Jane had Addison's Disease, which had not yet been named.
In the end, her brothers and nephew brought her casket here to the cathedral while Cassandra watched (women did not attend funerals then) and Henry wrote her epitaph.
In the midst of schoolchildren and tourists, I sat with my luggage, reflecting on Jane's short life, on her faith, and on the energy, love, and laughter with which she lived.
Box Hill in Surrey is the setting for the picnic scene in Emma, where Emma is terribly rude to Miss Bates. After Emma declares that everyone must provide something entertaining, nervous Miss Bates replies, "I shall be sure to say three dull things as soon as ever I open my mouth, shan't I? Do not you think I shall?" Emma cuts her off: "Ah! ma'am, but there may be a difficulty. Pardon me, but you will be limited as to number--only three at once." Public humiliation ensues for poor Miss Bates.
Mr. Knightley confronts Emma, and the whole story turns here. Emma realizes her fault, repents, and begins to view herself differently, to see that she has not always been kind or truly generous.
So Box Hill stands as a symbol of repentance, of the need for kindness and humility, and the value of good friends who are willing to say difficult things.
Jane Austen's House
For the Austen purist, perhaps there is no place more spiritual than her home in Chawton, where all the magic happened. The small cottage (actually not that small by today's standards) was on a large estate owned by Edward. It's here that Jane edited or wrote all of her stories, began to be published, and celebrated the publication of "Pride & Prejudice" (her "own darling child").
I was in awe of everything--the topaz cross Charles bought Jane on one of his navy assignments, a lock of her hair, the bedroom she shared with Cassandra, the red riding habit Mrs. Austen wore when married, and Jane's writing desk by the bay window in the dining room.
The Graves of Mrs. Austen and Cassandra
Jane's mother and sister are buried on Edward's estate at Chawton.
Jane's family was dear to her--she had six brothers and one sister, eight in all. The Austen home seems to have been warm, full of laughter and intelligent conversation.
Of course, family is never perfect, and there were some annoyances, but there was also a great deal of love. When Jane died, Cassandra wrote how she had lost "a treasure, such a Sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed,--she was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow, I had not a thought concealed from her, & it is as if I had lost a part of myself." What a gift--family and dear friends.
One of my favorite days from the trip was wandering alone through the Hampshire fields Jane knew and loved. I started at the church in Steventon, headed for Jane's dear friend Anne Lefroy's house in Ashe, and then went on to the village of Deane.
No doubt Jane was a great walker, like Lizzy Bennet, and spent time like Anne Eliot viewing "the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges."
The guidebook I used was a bit difficult, so I was perpetually lost. At one point I crossed a stile under the trees and found a field full of high summer wheat with a walking path cut through the middle. I walked into the field, stopped in the sun, and took a moment to wonder and feel giddy and pray.
St. Nicholas Church
George Austen, Jane's father, was rector at St. Nicholas Church, which dates back to the 1200s, in Steventon, a village in the Hampshire countryside. Jane was christened here on April 5, 1776.
Mr. Austen used to hide the church key in the huge yew tree out front. The rectory, where the family lived, was just down the lane from the church (though now the building is gone).
I was thrilled to be able to get into the church, and I sat in one of the narrow pews for a few moments and prayed where Austen worshipped for the first 25 years of her life.