Monday evening’s event in Winchester’s Discovery Centre (aka public library) was excellent fun – thank you to everyone who turned out on a chilly evening and especially to Sue Wrinch who organises Loose Muse so deftly. It was an honour for me to hear the wonderful open mic readers and to read alongside Jacqueline Saphra whose poetry I admire so much.
Because of the weather, I stayed the night in Winchester and spent Monday afternoon, as far as I could, in the company of Jane Austen who came to Winchester for urgent medical attention in her last days and died in College Street. She was 41 years old.
Thanks to her brother Henry’s connections, she was buried in the cathedral. She lies among bishops, soldiers and other powerful members of the community, one of precious few women. Like the other women, her floor plaque describes her by reference to her family men.
Henry Austen has been criticised for not mentioning her writing in that first memorial of hers but, standing there, I realised that he was probably guilty only of conformity in emphasising her sweet character instead. Who knows what pressure he was under from powers that be in the cathedral who felt they had conceded enough in allowing a woman to be buried there at all? Anyway, it wasn’t long before a second memorial was added – if you look up from the floor to the outer wall, you’ll find a pretty brass plaque – and for a third to follow in the form of a stained-glass window describing St Augustine as … St Austin.
I’ve been a fan of Jane Austen since my teens when it was common for men as well as women to list her among their top five writers. She teaches us writers several things:
Not to throw away our early writings. Most of what we read by Austen was written in her twenties and, crucially, rewritten in her mid to late 30s.
We won’t always be in the right place and circumstances to write. While Jane and the family lived in Bath, apparently she wrote nothing. The move to Chawton (sixteen miles outside Winchester) loosened the burst of writing and rewriting that was so sadly cut short by her final illness.
Do keep going and relish every scrap of encouragement, wherever it comes from.