Well I’ve had a wonderful day discovering loads more real life facts which Jane Austen mingled into her fiction. So many things I think this may well be another four blog saga. I certainly can’t fit it all in a day. Follow my blog on janelark.wordpress.com, if you don’t want to miss any.
Let me begin by explaining Jane Austen’s connection and why she visited Stoneleigh Abbey in August 1806. It must have been a bit dreamlike for her, as I am sure it would be for us. She’d previously endured the worst period of her life, living in Bath for two years watching her father’s health decline. He died on 21st January 1805, and afterwards Jane, Cassandra and their mother moved to a cheaper tenancy in Gay Street in Bath for six months, then moved again into Trim Street, a cheap area of Bath. Jane must have been concerned through this period, wondering how they would cope without her father. She did not write any fiction in this period because she lost all inspiration, her imagination simply died.
But then her mother decided to remove from Bath and do what unmarried dependent female relatives did in that day. Visit their relatives for extended stays.
I have spoken of Stoneleigh in earlier blogs but this time I took a pen and paper so I can ensure I share all the juicy facts.
Jane and Mrs Austen’s first visit was to be to a cousin of Jane’s mother they had never actually met, who resided at Hamstall Ridware. They called in at Addlethorpe near Morton-on-the-Marsh on the way – this is where Mrs Austen had grown up – and called on a cousin they were very close to, the Rector Thomas Leigh. At the time of their visit the Rector Thomas Leigh received some brilliant and wonderfully shocking news. He had inherited Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire, along with the fortune of that side of the Leigh family who’d passed away with no issue. He was advised by Mr Hill, the steward and executor of the will, to come quickly to ensure he claimed his inheritance as the will was likely to be disputed. There were many distant relatives. He immediately asked if he might bring his Cousin Mrs Austen and her daughter, Jane. So Jane and her mother began an exciting hurried journey up the fosse way from Cirencester (very near where I live and the way we travelled today to go to Stoneleigh Abbey too). In the chaise with them was also Thomas Leigh’s sister, Elizabeth Leigh. The men rode beside the carriage.
They approached Stoneleigh Abbey from the village of Stoneliegh and saw initially the Elizabethan red stone face, an old wing which was by then mainly used for service. They then came past the Jacobean wing, with a crescent shaped red stone staircase (which was replaced by the porch front in the picture below after Jane’s visit) leading to a first floor entrance facing a bowling green but they did no alight there.
They came about the corner and faced the west wing built in a silver coloured stone in baroque style. We do not have to simply imagine how impressed Jane was, we can read it in her letters and her books.
She would have carried the manuscript of Pride and Prejudice with her at the time and when the Gardiners reach Lambton you begin hearing things she might have adapted in the Manuscript. She mentions Warwick and Kenilworth, which are places she visited while staying at Stoneleigh Abbey.
Certainly visiting Stoneleigh Abbey reawakened Jane’s imagination and when she wrote Mansfield Park in 1811-1814 you hear constant reflections on Stoneleigh Abbey, for instance Fanny Price joins an outing to visit Sotherton Court and Jane’s descriptions begin as they near the house. ‘Those are the almshouses built by some of the family’.
My guess is that Jane described her own feelings ‘Her eye was eagerly taking in everything within her reach; and after being at some pains to a get a view of the house.’
Next week, I’ll tell you more of what Jane Austen found there.
Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.
See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark