Thursday, April 21, 2011

Jane Austen Was Here

To a certain extent, all authors work in the shadow of the literary greats. How will our books compare when stacked up against classics like Les Misérables, Don Quixote, or Wuthering Heights? For the Austen sequel writer, the pressure is infinitely greater. We are not just working in the same profession as those masters; we are actually taking the characters and settings of Jane Austen's stories and adding to them in some way.

Three weeks ago, I stepped directly into Austen's shadow when I visited Chawton. This house, now home to the Jane Austen's House Museum, is where she lived when she wrote and edited the majority of her novels. If you remember, I planned to spend some time writing on the grounds, and there was some debate over how intimidating that might be.

Honestly, I didn't think it would intimidate me--until I saw her writing desk. This is actually the little table she sat and wrote at. I imagined I could hear the squeak in the door which warned her when people approached. Then I was intimidated!

Look at that chair, at the angle of the chair to the table. This was not an ergonomic work station, friends. Granted, the chair is low enough and the table high enough that she wouldn't have to hunch over her paper, but beyond that... Can you imagine the dedication that would drive you to spend hours a day, cramped into one position, writing away?

Yes, I thought, I can imagine it. While my situation at home is far more comfortable, I still have a chiropractor and massage therapist constantly telling me I should take better care of myself. I ignore them, because sitting for hours a day is the only way to get the book done, and the book demands to be finished.

After touring the museum, I walked a ways up the road to the main house--Chawton Great House. This is a fine Elizabethan manor and I learned quite a bit about the Austen connection to the Knight family. Among the group, there was that electric realization that Jane Austen actually visited this house--ate in this dining room--walked on these stairs.

So did I do any writing? Yes, I did. Intimidated or not, I could not let this opportunity pass me by. Jane Austen was here, and now, so was I.