Jane Austen: A great English novelist

Jane Austen is now celebrated as one of England’s greatest novelists, but when she was buried in the Cathedral in 1817 at the age of 41, her original memorial stone made no mention of her books. You can read the brass plaque erected in 1872 to redress the omission in the north side aisle and an illustrated exhibition detailing Jane Austen’s life, work and death in Hampshire, is displayed beside her grave.

Why is Jane Austen important?

Jane Austen’s brief life was lived in relative obscurity, and some of her novels remained unpublished till after her death. Yet she put her stamp on the English novel for all time.

She began writing stories and sketches as a young girl, starting her first novel when she was just twenty. It was published eighteen years later as Pride and Prejudice.

She went on to write five more exquisitely detailed novels that have become English classics.

How is she linked to Hampshire?

Most of Jane’s short life was spent in the county of Hampshire.

She was born in 1775 in Steventon, Hampshire, to the Reverend George Austen and his wife Cassandra (the name also given to Jane’s beloved only sister and life-long friend). She enjoyed a happy childhood in a large and creative family.

Aged 25, she moved with family to Bath, where her father had decided to retire. But when he died in 1805, she returned with her mother and Cassandra to Hampshire to live in Southampton. Four years later, they moved to a cottage in the village of Chawton, also in Hampshire, now a museum to her work.

Here, Jane began to write seriously, working on Sense and Sensibility (published in 1811) followed by Mansfield Park in 1814 and Emma in 1815. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published after her death.

Why was she buried in Winchester Cathedral?

By 1816, Jane was beginning to feel increasingly unwell. In May 1817, she and her sister Cassandra drove the 16 miles from Chawton to Winchester, in pouring rain.

They took up lodgings in College Street, next to the Cathedral. The plan was to get help from a celebrated doctor at the newly established Winchester Hospital.

But Jane’s illness rapidly worsened. She died there in Cassandra’s arms, aged just 41, early in the morning of 18 July 1817.

She was buried in the Cathedral, a building she greatly admired. Her modest funeral was attended by just four people, and took place early in the morning, before services began.

She lies under the floor of the north aisle of the nave, where you can still see her simple gravestone. The inscription recorded her personal virtues and stoicism, but made no mention of her writing.

Why does she have three memorials in the Cathedral?

Jane’s fame as a writer steadily grew. In 1870, her nephew Edward wrote a memorial to his aunt, and used the proceeds to erect a brass plaque on the wall next to her grave. This time, the inscription begins: Jane Austen, known to many by her writings…

By 1900, she was famous enough for a public subscription to pay for the memorial window you can see above the plaque.

Today, tourists come from all over the world to stand at her grave. Nearby, they can also see her brass plaque and memorial window – three memorials to a remarkable woman whose novels so brilliantly capture the quiet drama of human relationships.

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