Deborah Yaffe

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Tuning in to Chawton House

By Deborah Yaffe, Jun 11 2020 01:00PM

Even in quarantine – especially in quarantine? -- Janeites apparently can’t get enough Jane Austen. Or so we might conclude from the attendance numbers at Chawton House's recent online events.


Over the past month, Chawton House, the Austen-linked research library and stately home in Hampshire, England, has held two weekend festivals -- the May 15-17 Lockdown Literary Festival, featuring writers and academics talking about their (usually Austen-related) work; and the May 30-31 Virtual Garden Festival, which took visitors through the beautiful grounds of the Elizabethan mansion, once owned by Austen’s older brother Edward Knight.


According to a recent email from the North American Friends of Chawton House, the site’s fundraising arm on this side of the Atlantic, more than fifteen hundred Janeites tuned in for at least one session of the literary festival; the best-attended individual talks drew some twelve hundred YouTube views. (Many of the videos are still available on Chawton House's YouTube channel.) The garden festival seems to have drawn smaller numbers, with YouTube hits in the hundreds.


Even better news for financially challenged Chawton House: During that first weekend’s festival, the NAFCH collected more than $4,000 in donations.


Chawton House needs the help: Like other cultural organizations that usually rely on ticket sales, it’s been hit hard by months of virus-induced closure. In 2018, the last year for which data is available online, Chawton House attracted nearly fifteen thousand visitors (see #5 on page 6 of the PDF), earning nearly £144,000 (about $183,000) from admission fees and sales of food and gift-shop merchandise.


This year, much of that income has evaporated. Instead, Chawton is relying on gifts to its Emergency Appeal from Janeites who, even if they can’t visit in person, nevertheless can’t get enough Jane Austen.


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