When the world is topsy-turvy and our hearts are heavy, many of us find comfort in books. And there’s something special in particular about the beauty of Austen’s novels, in the richness of the movie adaptations, and even in the thought of the lovely Hampshire countryside, secluded and beautiful, tucked away and secure.
The world inside Austen’s novels never changes. The familiar scenes and characters are always there and waiting. Elizabeth and Darcy never fail to spar and flirt in the drawing room in Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Woodhouse continues to eat his porridge and worry comfortably over the weather in Emma. And at the end of Persuasion, Captain Wentworth always sits down to write his letter to Anne Elliot.
Perhaps that’s why many of us (and why so many others throughout history) have found solace and comfort within the pages of Austen’s novels, especially during times of turmoil. And why her novels have been reprinted and translated and enjoyed around the world by so many people for over 200 years.
I find similar comfort in the film adaptations. When I sit down to watch a Jane Austen movie (or even have one playing in the background as I do chores), I love knowing just what to expect. I can’t wait to hear the music I love, listen to the accents and voices of characters and actors I adore, and watch the ever-amusing (and always touching) storylines unfold.
The comfort and familiarity of Austen movies keeps us coming back for more, year after year. There are always new adaptations to enjoy and critique (because there’s nothing better than debating this Emma over that Emma with Austen friends).
And then there’s the comfort of Jane Austen’s actual world. Although I know Hampshire is a real place with its own fair share of regular, everyday life activities and stormy days, both figurative and literal (such as when Storm Eunice brought down many trees on the Chawton estate and in Mingledown Woods just last month), the England described in Austen’s novels never fades.
I think the charm of the setting in her books is another reason so many of us as lifelong students and fans of Austen love to learn about her life, her family, and the places where she lived and wrote. During the height of the pandemic, we all did what we could to support the historic sites in England and watched for updates whenever possible. We dreamed of the day when we might get to visit those precious sites again or for the first time. Many of us even took virtual tours so we could “be” there.
Benches Along the Way
That’s probably why I was so overjoyed when I saw the good news a few weeks ago that the bench my local JASNA regional group sponsored had been installed in the Chawton House Gardens. In fact, the entire bench project fundraising is now complete! (I know many of you have contributed in various ways to the care and keeping of the historic sites as well.) Here is a snippet of the announcement:
“This month, we are pleased to announce that thanks to the wonderful support of the North American Friends of Chawton House (NAFCH), we have received the final 17 benches donated through the ‘Share a Bench with Jane’ scheme, just in time for our Spring Flowers season.“
If you’d like to see all of the bench locations, you can find them HERE.
As I read through the announcement and looked through the photos, I was comforted. I thought about how peaceful it would be to sit on a bench and enjoy the garden around me. I even thought about how I should install a bench in my own small garden area.
And then I came to this lovely quote that was included in the announcement from Chawton House:
“Although the recent storms have caused significant damage to parts of the estate, these latest additions mean that visitors to Chawton House will still be able to rest among the spectacular displays of snowdrops and daffodils as we move into a warmer season.”
Isn’t that an encouraging thought? I made me think. Though storms come in this life, there are benches along the way where we can rest. When the journey is long, it’s important to stop and sit. And though some winter seasons are particularly difficult, spring always comes and bright new flowers always bloom.
Signs of Spring
I’ll leave you with that lovely thought and a few photos of the “snowdrops and daffodils” mentioned above. I hope that each of you is finding comfort in the glimpses of beauty around you, in friends and family, in faith and home, in lending a helping hand to others when you can, and in the enjoyment of Jane Austen.
Your turn: What is it about Jane Austen’s novels and life that brings you comfort? Why do you think people continue to turn to her work in life’s difficult seasons?