Here I am standing outside Jane Austen’s house in Chawton, Hampshire. It was touching to see the quiet village in which Jane lived with her sister Cassandra and her mother, and to read about the circumstances which left the three of them dependent on the kindness of male relatives. It was also, of course, infuriating to think that because of social views at that time, it was impossible for a woman like Jane Austen to fend for herself. Luckily for her, one of her brothers was adopted by a nearby wealthy family and made the heir to their estates. In due course he inherited a number of properties, including the house at Chawton which he provided rent-free to his mother and sisters. From this secluded setting, and in a restricted social sphere, Jane managed to observe so much of life and manners that her analysis of human behaviour equalled that of the most worldly and experienced male writers. Letters from people like Sir Walter Scott and Winston Churchill were on display in the house, testifying to their admiration for Jane Austen’s psychological insight, as well as their mystification as to how she had done what she did.
Jane Austen died in 1817. The original gravestone over her tomb in Winchester Cathedral mentioned her delightful character, but made no mention of her books or her literary talent. It was not until 1872 that this information was added in a separate plaque, and now there is also a stained glass window dedicated to her.