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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

It's raining Austen

In Basingstoke, there will be benches. And in Winchester, there will be disappearing ink.

The bicentenary year of Jane Austen’s death begins in less than seven weeks, and the county of Hampshire, England, where Austen lived most of her life, is awash in commemorative events and exhibitions.

Literally awash, in the case of Winchester, the cathedral town where Austen died and was buried in July 1817.

As you’ll recall, earlier this year, Basingstoke, not far from Austen’s birthplace village of Steventon, unveiled plans for “Sitting With Jane,” a public art project featuring decorative benches. And now comes word that Winchester is launching “Rain Jane,” a public art project featuring Austen quotes “created in a special outdoor paint that will appear only during periods of rainfall.” (Judging from my last visit to Winchester, they’ll be visible at all times.)

As the weather changes, a dozen Austen quotes will appear and disappear, Cheshire Cat-style, in thirty-six locations around Winchester, as the city tries to simultaneously celebrate its Austen connections and encourage visitors to walk around town and patronize local merchants. “The quotations have been carefully placed in strategic locations. . . many that have an ironic link to the words so there is an ‘in joke’ about society in general that shows how relevant her work still is,” says a principal of the local design firm creating the project.

No examples, sadly – I guess we’ll all have to plan a visit to Winchester next year to find out what these ironic juxtapositions are. Pack an umbrella.


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