That Lady

On July18, 1817 two hundred and two years ago, a family in Winchester England, attended a funeral to grieve the loss of their daughter and sister, a 41-year old spinster. The cause of her death is still unknown. 

Her father had been a priest who retired early. The deceased lived in a small English village and chose to share a bedroom with her only sister until her death.

This appears to be the story of a short, unremarkable life. Yet years later, so many people sought out her simple grave that a verger of Winchester Cathedral asked if there was ‘anything particular about that lady?’ 

In an era when few women wrote books, that lady had published five novels, under two pseudonyms, ‘by a lady,’ or, ‘by Miss Burney.’ 

If the author had married, no doubt she would have had less time to leave such a daunting literary legacy. Her views on marriage are stated in one of her books: “There is not one in a hundred of either sex who is not taken in when they marry.” Was that insight her reason for staying single or was a life dedicated to writing more attractive?

When recently visiting her house, I took a pic of ‘that lady,’ Jane Austen’s writing desk. From this tiny launch pad she sat by the window and wrote stories that still entertain the world two hundred years later.

In Jane’s house, which is preserved as a museum in the village of Chawton, Hampshire, a quill pen is provided for visitors to try. On average, I got about two words per dip. Her meagre tools of ink, quill pen, desk, and paper make her writing accomplishments truly remarkable. In her book ‘Persuasion.’  Jane wrote, “It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.” I must remember this when I sit at my laptop, with a world of information at my fingertips and feel that writing is difficult. 

            Regarding reading, Jane wrote…“But for my own part, if a book is well written, I always find it too short.” 

            So let’s not delay folks, and get writing that ‘well written’ book. 

Unlike Jane’s short life and Spartan equipment, many, if not most of us are past 41 and own writing machines with a capability unparalleled in history.

(written for the North Short Writers Association Newsletter)