“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?