I told you all that I wouldn’t be away for very long. I was home less than a week from Sydney and I am off again on another research adventure. This time I am down at Chawton House AKA the former home of the Austen family. I know what you are all thinking – ‘What has Jane Austen got to do with Scottish music collections?’ The answer is absolutely nothing – I don’t think! –
I am doing a completely separate research project on something a little closer to my PhD work. Here is a quick update of what I will be up to this coming month.
I will be searching for accounts on the experience of the private music lesson as recorded by women throughout the long 18th century. Anyone who has had a music lesson will know that the typical format and discussions that take place, but to outsiders the details of the experience can seem obscure and odd – almost like a foreign language. Music lessons in the 18th century, particularly those experienced by women appear just as mysterious, as treatises from the period focus specifically on the mechanics of playing or singing or indeed on musical theory. The experience of the student-teacher relationship, the role of performance and even the structure of a typical lesson is absent from these texts. Yet, it is frequently these aspects that are the key components in understanding how musicians improved in their practice, how they measured the quality of tuition and their own abilities. Chawton House Library has an extensive collection of women’s writing and this will provide me with a huge variety of source material. By examining a variety of items from personal letters to fictional accounts of music lessons, I will be able to construct a more accurate description of what a typical private 18th century music lesson for women encompassed.
However, a big positive about this fellowship is that I get to live in The Old Stables next to the Chawton House itself. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect but the accommodations are just spectacular. Furthermore, I am surrounded by countryside and it is easy to see why Jane Austen was so inspired to write. The surrounding area has been wonderfully preserved and I don’t think that it looks too different to what the Austens’ would have experienced.
I only managed a quick jaunt around the grounds since arriving this afternoon, but I have already stumbled on the Austen legacy. In the nearby church, Jane’s mother and sister’s gravestones have been lovingly kept. Apart from a little signpost directing visitors to the back of the church, there is no other tourist signposting. But, fresh flowers were laid in front of the two stones showing the Austens’ are still very much in the thoughts of the visitors who come here.