his duties. Also, it was her express wish that she be buried in the cathedral here.”
Austen lies beneath the cathedral’s magnificent gothic nave, the longest of any in Europe, covered by a simple stone slab that makes no reference to her novels. Her passing in 1817 went unnoticed by the wider world, and when the poet John Keats visited Winchester two years later, calling it “the pleasantest town I ever was in”, he made no mention of her. Austen’s growing renown was to change all that; a brass plaque erected beside her grave a few decades later describes her as “known to many by her writings” and a stained-glass window was subsequently commissioned in her honour. Beneath the window I admire a flower display funded by the Jane Austen Society of North America. It’s a measure of her enormous appeal that this cathedral, which once housed the bones of England’s earliest kings and drew massed pilgrims to the remains of the revered St Swithun, is now chiefly known as the country’s foremost literary shrine.
Winchester has gone especially big on Austen, and in often unexpected ways. I am surprised to see the author quoted, “You must be the best judge of your own happiness” ( Emma), in antique fonts on the walls of the town’s multi-storey carpark. There are more Jane quotes, among them the intriguing, “I see more distinctly thro’ rain”, at the town’s The Mysterious Miss Austen exhibition, along with impressive displays of author portraits, personal possessions and manuscripts, one containing an alternative ending for Persuasion.
I conclude my pilgrimage outside the house on College Street, Winchester, where Austen’s life ended on July 18, 1817. A brass plaque commemorates her passing, though an elderly lady sitting on the bench in the gardens opposite, her nose deep in a copy of Pride and Prejudice, pays her the lasting tribute.
Jeremy Seal was a guest of Visit Britain. • visitbritain.com /au/en Many events and exhibitions have been planned to mark the Austen anniversary, especially in Hampshire, including The Mysterious Miss Austen (Winchester, until July 24), Jane and Her Alton Apothecary (Alton until August 20) and The Navy at the Time of Jane Austen; Fighting, Flirting and Fortune (Gosport, July 15 to September 20); janeausten200.co.uk. In Bath, the Jane Austen Festival will be held from September 8-17; janeaustenfestivalbath.co.uk; janeausten.co.uk; visitbath.co.uk. Other exhibitions include: Which Jane Austen? (Oxford, June 29 to October29; bodleian.ox.ac.uk); Jane Austen in 41 Objects (Chawton and online, throughout 2017; janeaustens-house-museum.org.uk); Jane Austen by the Sea (Brighton, until January 8; brightonmuseums.org.uk); Fickle Fortunes: Jane Austen and Germaine de Stael at 200 Years (Chawton, until September 24; chawtonhouse.org).
Jane Austen’s writing table at the House Museum, Chawton, above left; Pump Room, Bath, above; portrait of the young writer