Haunted by Jane Austen

RegencyPicnicSmallA literary ramble through England:

“We’re being haunted by Jane Austen,” my husband Thor declared by the midpoint of our recent two-week jaunt through the midlands and southern England. It seemed that every town or village where we lighted had the birthplace, a dwelling, or the gravesite of the author. Which suited me just fine, since I’m a big fan of her novels, but it was spooking my normally logical scientist mate–all Sense to my Sensibility. The cracks were starting to appear as we hiked over the fields to Stonehenge, where he admitted there might be something to the ancient powers of the place. But that’s another story….

While visiting Oxford, we learned that Jane had been educated there for a time as a child. Later, as we drove into Bath, I was looking forward to fleshing out the locations mentioned in Austen’s novel Persuasion.


I didn’t expect to see so many people dressed in Regency attire wandering the streets of the city, looking as if they’d stepped right out of the pages of the book. After touring the ancient Roman baths and “taking the waters” at the new Thermae Spa, we meandered the streets toward the Georgian showpiece of the Circus neighborhood, passing Austen’s house at 25 Gay Street.

The next day, it was off to Lyme Regis. By now, Thor was either shell-shocked with driving the narrow lanes on the left side as huge lorries crowded us to the verge, or accepting it all as normal, but at any rate was unhinged enough to start mentioning the “haunting.”

It could have started at the town museum, where I took advantage of the opportunity to admire their Jane Austen display (she lived here for a stretch) and dress up in a long vintage duster to surprise him. We strolled along the Cobb at the seaside, where Persuasion’s impetuous young Louisa jumped and injured herself. Then, fortified by tea with scones and clotted cream, we were ready to face the drive to Winchester.


On the way, Thor shocked me by asking me to describe the plot of Pride and Prejudice—this from a man who had resolutely refused to even consider watching the BBC production as “too chick flick.” Maybe he just needed a distraction from the continuing terrors of the road. At any rate, once in Winchester, he led the way to the last of poor Jane’s homes, where she spent her final days of illness before her early death. The last haunting was in Winchester Cathedral, where Jane Austen lies buried beneath a solemnly etched stone, overlooked by a memorial plaque.


Leaving the cathedral, Thor turned to me. “Let’s watch Pride and Prejudice when we get home.”

Did I just see a ghost, smiling?




Haunted by Jane Austen — 20 Comments

  1. I took my Ex to Persuasion, the BBC version with Amanda Root? Afterwards we went to a friend’s (male, straight friend’s) marathon showing of P&P with all the framing material rushed through so we could enjoy the story.

    After it all my Ex would say of Persuasion, “If you had told me I would be on the edge of my seat for two hours watching for a raised eyebrow, I would have laughed at you. But I was.”

      • Mumblety years ago, my now-husband-then-boyfriend and I went to (among other things) Winchester Cathedral (NHTB kept singing “vo-doh-di-O-doh” sotto voce, and I had to keep poking him). As we walked around, the boys’ choir was rehearsing, and there was an off-and on swell of gorgeous music that would stop suddenly, followed by the choirmaster’s quiet scolding. At one point he let them get through an entire verse of whatever they were singing, which was quite glorious. In the silence that followed, I looked down and saw I was standing on Miss Austen’s grave. Which felt eerier than it likely was.

        Did you walk the canals in Winchester at all?

        And yes, the Ciaran Hinds/Amanda Root Persusasion is one of my favorites.

        • Yes, it’s a glorious cathedral –we were there for evensong, and the singing was wonderful. Then back for tour of the crypts the next day. We also did the “Keats Walk” along the River Itchen canals to the “hospital” almshouse, in operation since 1031 (about that date) for disadvantaged men, where we asked for our traveller’s dole of ale and bread crust. What a delightful place!

  2. Oh honey! Your husband and mine, they must talk! My poor husband also drove on the left, with me constantly crying out, “Stay in your lane!! You’re DRIFTING!”

  3. OMG! That was the exact phrase I kept using: “Drifting! Drifting!” I was the navigator (we foolishly didn’t get satellite nav), and I was tending toward panic attacks.

    • And did you venture into the rural lanes, lined with hedges, exactly ONE car wide? And were you driving a stick-shift? Tell you what, let’s do it again together so that the guys can commiserate!

      • Oh, yes, we actually have a video as we were driving one of those hedgy narrow lanes, and ran into a big bus coming right at us. Thor did some swearing….

    • Yes, the very end is… oddly wrong, considering how much is right up to that point. On the other hand, the scene at her sister’s house, when everyone keeps sidling up to poor Anne and trying to enlist her help with everyone else’s regrettable behavior, makes me cackle every time I see it.

  4. Not to be a purist or anything, but I’d like to put in a plug for the book(s) over the movie(s). When I saw Sense and Sensibility with my sister, I said, “I don’t understand why Marianne is so obsessed with that young twerp when she could have Alan Rickman.” And my sister said, “He isn’t Alan Rickman in the book.” And, of course, he isn’t.

    • Of course the books are the real deal, so much more there! There’s just little hope that my husband could be persuaded to read one versus viewing a film (sigh).

      • Sigh, indeed. I can think of exactly one example where the movie of something was better than the book: MASH. The book was a badly written collection of funny anecdotes.

        Though I have trouble reading Jane Austen myself, not because the work isn’t good, but because I get so angry at the limitations on women in that world. I find it painful. But it’s brilliant work and I always appreciate it even in my anger.

  5. The Stunt Man is a much better movie than the book it was based on. It’s one of those movies where the first time you see it, it’s a different movie than if you see it a second time. (Well worth both viewings.)


        • All my favorite movies include Peter O’Toole.

          I don’t remember the details of the book very well — it’s been a long time since I read it. I read it because books are always better than the movie, right? But not, alas, in this particular case. I do recall finding a good bit about the book incomprehensible.

          There’s things in the movie that *appear* incomprehensible till you realize what’s going on. That’s one reason why watching it the first time is a different experience than watching it the second time.

          Unlike Lawrence of Arabia, which must be seen in a good theater with a wide screen, The Stunt Man can be watched on TV.