Thursday, 31 March 2011

Jane Austin's House Chawton

On Saturday the 19th March I went to Jane Austins House in Chawton for a writers workshop.

The setting is very lovely a small Hampshire where village very little has changed over the centuries.  The house is a 17th Century Cottage where Jane spent the last  8 years of her life.  The garden is very beautiful and tranquil. There are a number of trees and one that caught my attention in particular was the was a small English oak tree with a lovely circular seat around it.  On Saturday the spring flowers were beautiful all of which would have been grown during Jane's time there.
Rebbecca Smith

The course teacher is Rebbecca Smith who has written several novels published by Bloomsbury. She is  the great great great great great niece of Jane Austen.  Rebbecca was writer in residence lin 2009/10 and has returned to run more courses this year.  The courses take  themes from the novel Sense and Sensibility.  2011 is the 200 anniversary of its  publication.

The theme  for the day was  Such Devoted Sisters  drawing from the fictional characters of Elinor and Marianne and also to from Jane and her sister Cassandra relationship.  Rebbecca who has an amazing knowledge of English Literature read us  extracts from Sense and Sensibility  and many other books including her own.  She then set us writing task to complete.  As it was a beautiful day most of us opted to write in the garden. Here are two of  of the six sketches  I penned during the course.

The first task was A Portrait Of A Sister.  I found this quite hard as my only sister died as a baby and  I only have two older brothers.  For a while I traced the memories of my sister and the abiding image was a small white coffin leave out of the front door of our house and being held back from running to my mother and father as they left too. Sad memories which I thought about for a while and the echoes of the pain of her death came through the years.  Too personal and sad for today.

Instead I decided that I would write a description of the Two Goddesses Cerridwin, goddess of the moon  and Brigid, goddess of fire. They come together each year at  the Spring Solstice when  the goddess combine their gifts,to create and release the essence of spring.  They meet on the shores of Ireland. I don't feel confident about writing descriptions but here is a short sketch  transcribed from my notebook. 

The Essence of Spring 

Cerridwen was lit by the silver moon as she came into the bay in a coracle, it  came to rest on the beach.  Without hesitation she stepped onto the  sand and stood firmly on the Irish shore. Her fair almost white hair hung straight down her back, it  rippled in the breeze from the sea..  Her dress was blue studied with stars and moonstones.   Her  grey eyes scanned the beach before she lifted the cauldron easily and gracefully from the coracle.  She walked towards a prepared pile of wood.  She placed the cauldron on the ground and took from it a linen sack and a flask.  Cerridwin  stood waiting calmly for her sister to appear.

There was a flurry of movement and Brigid came bustling through the dunes and ran to Cerridwin and engulfed her in a hug. In return Cerridwin bent down and embraced Brigid lightly.  Then she  stood back and looked at her sister.  Brigid was almost twirling in her excitement.  Her red wild curls were tumbling down her back, her ample figure clothed in rusts and green,  Cerridwin smiled as Brigid chattered and laughed as they worked together to brew  the Essence of Spring.  Brigid lit the fire and Cerridwin emptied the herbs and sacred water into the cauldron.  They lifted it onto the fire and watched over the fire and cauldron as magically  the essence was distilled  which would  wake nature from its winter slumbers and bring the rebirth of the bright  burgeoning of Spring. 

The second piece I have chosen is on the theme of  Sisters As Spoilers. I rather think my two older brothers thought just by being born I spoilt things.  But I totally adored them and was blind to all hints to leave them alone.  I do remember the excitement the family felt about going 'aboard' as it was called then.  I was nearly five and mum thought I was now old enough to go and enjoy it.  Was it my fault I got mumps and we couldn't go?  I do remember vaguely being aware that my brothers hated me -  but I soon forgot it.  Here is a story about me spoiling things for my brother Kevan.  I was about 11 at the time.

Love Denied

It was nice of my brother Kevan to treat me to the cinema and to pay for my friend Shelia to go as well.   I knew he had invited Josie round that afternoon.  Mum and Dad were out bird ringing in the New Forest.  Josie had made me take her home last week as she fancied my brother.  She was in the fifth form.  Mum was surprised to see my new friend -  Josie wasn't really  a friend but a couple of chinese burns from her persuaded me she was.

Shelia and me had a great time.  We had enough money to buy a huge pot of popcorn.  Sheila mum had given her lots of sweets.  We had ice cream in the interval from the ladies in the pretty costumes who brought tray of ices down the aisle of the cinema.

We walked home via the park.  We bought chips from the van by the gate and ate them as we twirled on the roundabout. Perhaps I shouldn't have eaten the chips because I was feeling a bit sick.  I left Shelia at her house and went  round the corner to my house.  My brother was outside and he was mad very mad.

"you did it  deliberately"

I stared at him blankly and said,


"Left the lid of the those stick insects."


Now my brother was very tall and nearly four years older than me but he was terrified by my stick insects.  It turns out that I had left the lid off the tank they lived in and while he was canoodling on the settee with Josie they had crawled into his hair and over his face.  He had screamed and run out of the room tumbling Josie off the settee.  Josie had left in a huff.  I sighed because now she will be mad at me as well. 

"Oh dear!"

My brother was saying things that if I told mum and dad would get him into real trouble. 

It wasn't fair!  I didn't mean to do it and I didn't mean to be sick on his new boots either. He was really really mad. He rushed indoors slamming  the door shut.  I hadn't got a key so  I sat on the wall outside until mum and dad came home.

I hope you enjoyed my  ramblings from the village of Chawton. I am returning to Chawton for the second part of the course on the 9th of April.  So watch this space for more quick sketches.

With bright blessing
Merry Rambler