Chawton House Library, a leading study centre for early English women’s writing, is to host a talk and book signing event for Jackie Bennett’s latest book, The Writer’s Garden, which reveals how gardens inspired the nation’s best-loved authors, including Jane Austen.
The garden writer and historian will read from Austen’s novels and letters to show how gardens, including the historic parkland at Chawton House Library, once the home of Austen’s brother, Edward Austen Knight, found their way into Austen’s work.
Other writers and their gardens in the illustrated book include Agatha Christie and Greenway, her home near Brixham in Devon, Virginia Woolf and Monk’s House, her 17th century cottage in Sussex and Roald Dahl and Gipsy House, his home in the Chilterns.
The event is on Wednesday, 3 September, from 11am at Chawton House Library and includes refreshments in the Old Kitchen and a tour of the listed gardens with the head gardener.
Jackie Bennett said: “It’s fascinating to learn how the writers used their gardens in lots of different ways.
“Some used them as a hideaway and somewhere to write, including Virginia Woolf, whose writing ‘shed’ is probably the most famous. Agatha Christie, on the other hand, used her garden at Greenway in Devon as a location for her crime stories.”
She added: “With other writers, including Jane Austen, it’s more difficult to pin down exactly which gardens are which in their work.
“What we do know is that Austen was familiar with grand houses, such as Chawton House Library, but her own situation was much simpler.
“She was brought up on a small holding at the family rectory in Steventon near Basingstoke, and then spent her last years at a cottage in Chawton which had far more modest gardens.”
Keith Arscott, Development Director at Chawton House Library, said: “This event is an opportunity to follow in Jane Austen’s literary and gardening footsteps and trace her journey from her childhood smallholding in Steventon, Hampshire, to the grounds of Godmersham in Kent and finally to the village of Chawton.”
He added: “Understanding how these writers across several centuries sought inspiration from their gardens, and how their outdoor space influenced their work, helps to bring both their homes and their writing to life.”
Chawton House Library aims to educate and inspire people of all ages to read the works of early English women writers from 1600 to 1830, from Aphra Behn to Mary Wollstonecraft, and preserve the literary heritage for academics and non-scholars for generations to come.
The house itself, which is more than 400 years old, is regularly open to visitors, alongside library readers, for tours and during public events. It also provides research facilities for Visiting Fellows from around the world, learning projects with local schools and colleges and fosters links internationally through seminars and conferences.
Tickets for The Writer’s Garden event cost £11, or £8.50 for students or friends of Chawton House Library, and can be bought online at Eventbrite or call 01420 541010. Signed copies of the book, which is published by Frances Lincoln, will also be on sale on the day at an exclusive price.