This week we have the pleasure of featuring an exclusive interview with Mary Guyatt, Curator at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire. It was here that Jane Austen wrote her last three novels (Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion) as well as where she revised her first three novels, including Pride and Prejudice!
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York Notes: Could you tell us about what Jane Austen’s House Museum does, and what your role is within the museum.
Mary Guyatt: I am Mary Guyatt and my role is Curator. I work with our trustees, staff and a large team of volunteers to maintain and develop this unique literary site, and to increase public appreciation of Jane Austen’s life, work and times.
YN: What does Jane Austen’s House Museum do?
MG: The Museum welcomes visitors from around the world to see the house where Jane Austen lived with her mother and sister for the last eight years of her life. The Museum is a charity and it has been open to the public since 1948. We are open 330 days a year and located in the village of Chawton, in Hampshire. As well as looking around the house, we have hands-on activities and a programme of events.
YN: What kinds of objects and articles does the museum hold?
MG: The Museum holds a collection of objects directly relating to Jane Austen and her family, as well as examples of Regency domestic furniture and materials associated with her six novels.
YN: Were any of Jane Austen’s novels written during her time at Jane Austen’s House Museum?
MG: Yes, the House is where she revised her first three novels – Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice and Northanger Abbey – and went on to write Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion. Pride and Prejudice was first published whilst she lived in Chawton.
YN: Can you tell us about any objects and articles the museum has in relation to Pride and Prejudice?
MG: In our archive [not on display] we have a letter written by Jane in January 1813 in which she speaks of taking hold of her ‘own darling child’. She was referring to receiving the
printed copy of the novel from the publishers. We also have Hugh Thomson illustrations of the novels from the editions of the 1890s.
YN: What does Jane Austen’s house tell us about her lifestyle?
MG: The house is a modest village home. This exemplifies Jane’s roots in the county of Hampshire and, as an unmarried woman, her dependence on her male relatives. The house was the property of her wealthy brother Edward.
YN: Are there any letters or documents at Jane Austen’s House Museum that tell us about her time there?
MG: Jane wrote many letters from Chawton, in which she chronicled her daily life, as well as local and family news.
YN: What is the most prized treasure the museum holds in relation to Jane Austen?
MG: There are few artefacts known to have belonged to Jane Austen and probably the most famous is her gold and turquoise ring. We purchased this ring in 2013 after the UK
Government prevented its American owner from exporting it to the United States. Many, many private donors contributed to the purchase and the ring is now on display for all to enjoy.
YN: What is the most surprising object the museum has which belonged, or relates to, Jane Austen? Why is it surprising?
MG: We have a red riding jacket once owned by Jane Austen’s mother. This is said to have been worn by the Austen children for home theatricals and dressing-up. This is also my favourite item within the museum that belonged to the Austen family.
YN: And now for a difficult question! Tell us, which novel by Jane Austen is your favourite?
MG: I love Sense & Sensibility because it was the first one I read. In all our polls the favourite is Pride and Prejudice!
Photo credits: House images: Jane Austen’s House Museum; Ring image: Peter Smith
Jane Austen’s House Museum is the only house where Jane lived and wrote which is open to the public as a museum, offering exciting events and exhibitions.
If you would like to find out more, please head over to their website
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