Chawton Battles City of Bath Over Jane Austen Bragging Rights

Posted on September 25, 2008

A battle is raging over Jane Austen's home. Chawton in Hampshire is fighting to retain its title as the "true home" of Jane Austen. Austen spent the last years of her life in the village. But the city of Bath claims that it is entitled to be called Austen's "true home." Austen wrote all her novels in Chawton Cottage including the famous novels Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. The cottage is now the Jane Austen's House Museum. It receives 30,000 guests annually.

"I think of Bath as Jane Austen's true home and people who come here year after year from all over the world certainly recognise it as such," said David Lassman, festival director until 2007 and a leading authority on the novelist.

"A lot of the buildings are still here from her day which is why, when international fans think of Jane, they picture her here. If a casual reader of Austen picked up one of her books they would never read about Chawton, whereas Bath is mentioned time and again as a setting. Whatever the details of her life, I think these days Bath has got the bigger claim to be her home and that's not going to change."

Louise West, education manager of the museum, takes a different view. She said: "It was in this house, in this village, that Austen changed the face of the English novel, so Chawton is incredibly important on an international level. If you want to see Jane Austen's true home then come to Chawton, not Bath. What they've got in Bath is nice but we have her possessions and the home she lived in and the desk she wrote at."

At stake is a great deal of tourist traffic and dollars. Only time will tell whether Bath can steal Chawton's thunder. But Bath has other attractions -- such as the Roman baths. It seems rather churlish to try to usurp Chawton's place in Austen's life.

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