Southampton and the Jane Austen House Museum

My wonderful husband had come for a visit this weekend, and my brother just happened to be in port in Southampton. After a little shifting of travel plans, we headed into Southampton and spent some of the day wondering around. I didn’t get the opportunity to go on the 90 minute history walk around the city since my brother and husband were carrying big bags with them but something worth knowing for any future visits!

I did briefly mention that I visited the Jane Austen House Museum in my last post but after having the opportunity to think about the visit, I wanted to share some of my reflections. I have given the House quite a positive review on the upcoming video, which will be available on my YouTube channel very soon. However, as I was editing the video and thinking back to my visit I had this nagging feeling that I wasn’t particularly inspired to return despite having an annual pass. 

The Museum itself, as I note in the video has a few unique items to see and lays out each room to provide further contextualisation about the period the Austen’s lived as well as more information about the Austen family. As I was walking around I found these items inspiring, but the most interesting part of the display was the tiny corridor dedicated to Jane Austen’s death. The area includes a letter written by Cassandra, Jane’s will and some panels that explain why she did not pass away in Chawton. This tied up with what I learned in Winchester Cathedral about Jane’s illness in her final days connected all the dots together. That being said, if I hadn’t visited Winchester Cathedral I wouldn’t have necessarily fully understood all the information in this section. 

I think this was my problem with the museum. Though it is providing information about the wider period, the story of Jane is lost. The items though beautifully unique do not coherently take you through the stages of her life culminating in her untimely death. In fact, the little corridor that has the information for the final pieces of the puzzle could be easily missed. The other element that put me off was the 10 minute movie in the learning centre. It seems to have been shot a number of years ago, yet the set up of the house has hardly changed. The learning centre is off to the side, no one was in the room watching the film and I felt a lot of the information could have been included in the rooms themselves through innovative digital methods such as short audio/visual clips played inside each of the bedrooms. This would have added so much more depth to the overall experience. The gorgeous, playable Clementine square piano is available to visitors to play and adds a little more life to the visit. Though it is irksome to see Pride and Prejudice film music rather than music that is a little more appropriate for the instrument.

The gardens are definately a highlight of the visit and well worth seeing. Overall, I was satisfied at the time but not inspired to return, which is ashame. Anyone who is an Austen fan I am sure will enjoy the experience but perhaps consider combining the Jane Austen House Museum with a visit to Chawton House if you are wanting to make a day of it.

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