Jane lies in Winchester
By Deborah Yaffe, May 1 2017 01:00PM
Now that this Austen bicentenary year is in full swing, the announcements of commemorative events pegged to the July 18 anniversary of her death are coming thick and fast. The latest is the newly released slate of activities at Winchester Cathedral, which holds a special place in Janeite hearts, as the site of Austen’s grave.
There are once-a-month Austen-themed tours of the cathedral and its environs, exhibitions about Austen’s life and work and the literature she inspired, and a Book of Memories for visitors to sign. There are recitals of period music and an outdoor performance of a play based on Pride and Prejudice. There are talks on the role of Christianity in Austen’s life and work, by the former rector of Austen’s home church in Steventon; and on how she came to be buried in the cathedral, by the former head of Chawton House Library.
Best of all are the events planned for the bicentenary of Austen’s death and the days following. On July 18, the anniversary of her death, the cathedral will hold a special Evensong – certain to be especially affecting in the spectacular setting. Five days later comes a Regency tea party, at which attendees will be invited to read their favorite passages from Austen’s work.
And on July 24 comes a retracing of the procession that carried Austen’s body from the College Street house where she died to the cathedral for burial. Along the way, the bells will toll forty-one times, one stroke for each year of Austen’s too-short life.
OK, I admit it: I’m choked up even thinking about this.
If it were in my power to get to England at all this year, and if there were one part of these celebrations I'd prefer to others, it'd be the procession you describe in your last paragraph. On our 2009 JASNA tour of England, we had the privilege (in return for a large donation) to visit the College St. rooms. But what moved me even more than the rooms was stepping out of the house a bit ahead of the rest of our group, and imagining the "little mournful procession the length of the Street" that Cassandra described in her second letter to Fanny Knight after the death. I was wiping considerable moisture off my specs by the time the others caught up with me.
Yes, I agree: recreating that procession would be something special! I envy you your opportunity to see the College Street rooms -- they were off-limits during my 2011 JASNA tour.