Jane Austen’s House Museum today launched the new season with the unveiling of a Garden Memorial by letter carver Pip Hall, commissioned to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. The memorial takes the form of a beautiful social seating space, and carved into the stone is a quotation from a Jane Austen letter, placing her words at the heart of this most precious place. The quotation was chosen by two Jane Austen fans, Janet Stow and Susanna O’Brien, following a call to the public to suggest a favourite Austen quotation.
Following an introduction by Museum Curator Mary Guyatt, letter carver Pip Hall talked about the process of creating the memorial and carving the words into the stone on site, using the Museum’s Bakehouse as her studio. Before cutting the ribbon and officially opening the seating area, author and Jane’s Fund Ambassador Paula Byrne talked about her passion for Jane Austen and read aloud the quotation, declaring that she didn’t think a better quotation could have been chosen for the Memorial.
The quotation is taken from Jane Austen’s letter to the Reverend James Stanier Clarke and dated 1st April 1816. Stanier Clarke was the Prince Regent’s librarian and following some correspondence about the dedication to His Royal Highness in Emma, he went on to propose subjects for her next book, such as a royal romance. The quote reads:
‘I could not sit seriously down to write a serious Romance under any other motive than to save my Life, & if it were indispensable for me to keep it up & never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first Chapter.’
Mary Guyatt, Jane Austen’s House Museum Curator said:
‘Knowing that this place has always been the most precious Austen site in history, we wanted to make sure that as a museum we celebrated Jane’s life and literature in a medium that would last well beyond last year’s bicentenary. Thanks to a partnership with Hampshire Cultural Trust, we indirectly received a grant from the Arts Council England which enabled us to commission this beautiful memorial, to be placed here in the garden Jane Austen so loved.’
Following the January closure period, the Museum reopens today. This year, displays throughout the Museum will celebrate the 200th anniversaries of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. The first of two displays, Family, Friendship and Northanger Abbey, will run from February – August and includes a newly acquired letter written by Jane Austen here at her home in Chawton in 1816. The second half of the year is dedicated to Persuasion and War which will run from September – December.