I’ve taken a week out of my AHRC Collaborative PhD programme at The V&A Museum of Childhood and QMUL to learn a bit about how things are done here at Jane Austen's House Museum, and will be very sorry to leave. There’s a lovely rhythm to things here and members of staff were very generous with their time, taking care to tell me all about their roles and what they have planned for the museum. There’s a lot in the pipeline, and I’m looking forward to returning as a visitor to see how things develop.
My main activity here has been sorting out some accurate cross-referencing for records of Jane Austen’s letters. This involved reading the letters too, which was great. A bit like nosing through someone’s text messages and finding out what they really think of the people around them! I was also lucky enough to pop into the curator’s magic cupboard and read a couple of originals. A once in a lifetime opportunity! The letters are a sparkling mixture of acerbic observation and sisterly sweetness. One referred to two topaz crosses on chains that were bought for Jane and her sister Cassandra by their sailor brother using prize money. So after reading the letter, I just popped into the house and took a look at Jane’s precious cross which is on display there.
I also helped with the redevelopment of the reading room in the house. It’s a great resource for very serious biographies, Austen in translation and comic book strips of the much loved novels. My favourite was the ‘Cozy Classics’ version of ‘Pride&Prejudice’: twelve words, twelve needle-felted illustrations, job done.
It has been wonderful to gain an insight into how a literary house museum works. Every day really is different, with new stewards around and new visitor challenges to consider. But just as when Jane herself lived here, there is always time for a cup of tea and a moment to reflect on village events. Come down if you’re in Hampshire. They let you play the piano, and there’s a fabulous café next door.