As I write this blog post I am in the throes of moving house. My study is all packed up, my books in boxes, every shelf, cupboard and wall of the house has been cleared of pictures, ornaments and utensils. Our clothes are in suitcases or vac-packed. Our kitchenware is reduced to the bare minimum of cups, plates and cutlery.
Usually a house-move is a source of pleasure and excitement, something to be looked forward to and relished; a new life in the country, perhaps, or a new, exciting job. Perhaps the new place is better in some way – bigger, in a better location, brand new or filled with characterful charm. Or smaller, easier to manage, closer to family.
I’m not going to go into details but our house move isn’t quite any of these things. When we moved to this house four years ago I never imagined moving out of it, certainly not so soon, and yet, here we are.
It is these slightly ambivalent feelings that have put me in mind of Mrs Dashwood and of Anne Elliot, and of Jane Austen herself.
Jane was born in and lived for 26 years at the vicarage in Steventon until her father retired and moved the family to Bath. Jane’s brother took over the living and the house. What must her feelings have been on leaving that safe and familiar home where she had lived alongside her family? My copy of Claire Tomlin’s excellent biography is in a box somewhere (grrrr!) but I am sure I recall her describing Jane’s feelings of rawness that the whole thing had been arranged while she was away, her sense that her brother and sister-in-law were too eager to appropriate books and furniture and a general anxiety that Bath would not be pleasant. But, as a young, single woman without private means, what could she do but accede to her parents’ wishes?
Anne Elliot found herself in similar circumstances albeit for different reasons. Her father’s extravagant lifestyle resulted in a deficit in their income. He is persuaded to move to Bath, where they can live more cheaply but in equal style. Like Jane, Anne does not like the idea of Bath. Sir Walter and Elizabeth go on ahead to secure lodgings leaving Anne to prepare Kellynch for its new tenant. To her is left the boxing up of the family’s private belongings and the best china. The scenes of Anne’s childhood – memories, perhaps, of her mother; memories, too, of the brief but wonderful period of Frederick Wentworth’s courtship – must be left behind. How ardently Anne must hope that someday she will return (the house after all, is being let, not sold) and yet how powerless she must feel, not to be able to decide on her own place of domicile.
The situation of Mrs Dashwood is worse. She is bereaved, with three daughters to care for. Remaining at Norland, the family home, is not an option in practice although in theory it could have been. Mrs Dashwood is forced to write to relations near and far begging for a home. The cottage at Barton, though quaint enough in its way, is a far, far cry from the home she has been used to. While the Elliots at least have the appearance of having moved simply for a change of scene, Mrs Dashwood’s fall from plenty to penury is apparent to everyone. The reality of living on virtually no income would have tested a woman of more fibre than Mrs Dashwood, and the prospect of finding suitable matches for her girls must have seemed distant indeed. Add to this the feeling that must have gnawed at the Dashwood women – that it wasn’t fair. They have not been dealt with honourably. The machinations of others have brought them to this pass. I can really relate to that!
Jane remained in Bath only a few years. She was itinerant for a while, but at last she settled at Chawton where she lived happily. We do not know where Captain and Mrs Wentworth made their home but we can be sure that Anne was happy there. I presume that Colonel Brandon found room for Mrs Dashwood and Margaret at Delaford.
They all found and settled in new homes and were happy there. I take comfort in that.
UPDATE: Due to the Corona virus we have STILL not moved! Here we remain, surrounded by boxes. Our home is pretty comfortless but we have remained within it as per government guidelines and in an attempt to protect ourselves and others. I wonder if this has not been worse than actually making the break, painful as it was going to be.
However I have used my time profitably. My new book is almost complete in its first draft. Who knew that I could achieve 100+k words in ten weeks? Not too surprisingly it is about a girl who finds herself transplanted to a strange new house, far from friends and all she has known. In the end, like Jane Austen, Anne and the Dashwoods, she finds peace in her new surroundings.
I’d love to hear your experiences of moving home. Please comment below.