Jane Austen fans are in for another anniversary treat this year. Hot on the successful heels of Pride and Prejudice’s bicentennial anniversary in 2013 comes that of Emma, the story of the young, genteel Emma Woodhouse setting herself up as a matchmaker. Published in December 1815, it’s a lively comedy of manners that looks at the concerns and trials of refined women in early 19th-century England.
The novel’s anniversary means it’s a good time for Austen fans to visit Jane Austen’s house, Chawton, near Alton in Hampshire, south England – around an hour by train from London. The charming house was where she spent the last eight years of her life and it’s where she did the majority of her mature writing. She wrote Emma here, as well as Mansfield Park and Persuasion, in addition to revising Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey.
Now called the Jane Austen’s House Museum, it runs a programme of events throughout the year to keep even the most ardent of Austen aficionados happy! Every year the museum celebrates the author’s birthday on 16 December with free entry, hot drinks and mince pies for visitors. And although the full programme for 2015 has yet to be announced, going on Austen’s birthday is a rather nice time to visit, especially for Emma fans, which itself was published in December. 2015 will see the museum running book-making workshops, historic food workshops and writing workshops. Since it’s 200 years since the publication of Emma, one of the workshops in May, ‘Building the Village of your Story’, will look at how the village of a story can help with plotting, managing a cast of characters, building tension and creating a sense of place – much like was done in Emma. www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk
Emma, like most heroines in Jane Austen novels, adored a ball. And what better way to celebrate the novel’s publication then donning your finest Regency outfit and heading to the beautiful city of Bath in west England for the Regency costumed Summer Ball. It plays a fun part in the city’s annual Jane Austen Festival.
In 2015, the festival will run between 11-20 September. Empire-line gowns and bonnets at the ready! www.janeaustenfestivalbath.co.uk
Bath is certainly the place to visit if you want to embroil yourself in all things Austen – the author lived there between 1801 and 1805, and features regularly in her writings. Head to the city’s Jane Austen Centre for exclusive films, costumes, temporary and permanent exhibits, maps and books all dedicated to the life and times of Austen. Plus you can channel your inner Emma as the centre offers visitors the chance to dress up in Regency bonnets, top hats, shawls, fans and parasols! Bath is around 90 minutes by train from London. www.janeausten.co.uk
The picturesque village of Evershot in Dorset, south-west England, a village of thatched cottages and charming 400-year old inns, played the role of Highbury Village in the film. Explore the area and then stay in the luxury country house hotel Summer Lodge, a Grade II-listed building set in four acres of land; it’s easy to imagine yourself stepping back in time in these atmospheric surroundings. (www.summerlodgehotel.co.uk).
Evershot is around 3.5 hours drive from London.
And, if you loved the film’s elegant ball scenes, visit Claydon House in Buckinghamshire, where the Crown ball interiors scene was filmed. Cared for by the National Trust, this idyllic country estate, just under two hours’ drive from London, is packed with ornate and lavish 18th-century English interiors that the original owner Sir Ralph Verney intended to wow his neighbours and political rivals with. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/claydon