The Yellow House in Winchester

The Yellow House in Winchester

We’ve been coming to this for some time, although it was actually the first city in my itinerary during my travels, for I began at Jane Austen’s end. I’d been to Winchester before this trip, but it was merely as a stopover on the way to Alton and Chawton. This was the first time I’d stayed overnight there, and I found the place quite charming, despite the high risk of getting “Winchester Cathedral” stuck in my head the entire time I was there. It had numerous historic buildings, from Georgian bow windows to Tudor timber frame:

Winchester town center
A delightfully narrow passageway in Winchester.
Historic inn, in Winchester

I stayed near the cathedral, which features some wonderfully old outbuildings:

Buildings on the cathedral grounds.

Also nearby is this yellow house. You’ve probably seen photos of it before:

The house where Jane Austen died

I hadn’t been intending to seek it out – the house is a private residence and therefore not open to visitors, and I also have little interest in seeing death locations. I’m much more interested in seeing where and how people lived. Yet this seemed to be my luck on this trip, for without intending it, I ended up seeing the sofa upon which Charles Dickens died, the bed in which Queen Victoria died, and the bed in which Queen Charlotte (consort of George III) died.

So I was exploring the area, and suddenly there was the house where on the 18th of July, 1817, Jane Austen died. Whether it was from Addison’s disease, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, arsenic poisoning, or something entirely else that modern medical historians have not yet landed upon, she was gone at the entirely too young age of 41. What medical treatment could be had in that day (she had gone to Winchester for this purpose) had not succeeded in curing her, nor had a trip to Cheltenham to take the waters.

She was laid to rest four days later, in nearby Winchester Cathedral.

Winchester Cathedral exterior
Interior of Winchester Cathedral
Mural on the route to Jane Austen’s tombstone.
Jane Austen’s burial place

It’s a grand place, to be her final resting place, particularly for a lady who was known then only as the unmarried daughter of a country clergyman. And as I viewed it, and the exhibits around it, I began to become dubious about the common lore for why she was buried there: that it was because she was the daughter of a clergyman in the Church of England. Yes, this lore does seem to be borne out by her epitaph, written by her brother Henry, which makes no mention of her writing:

Jane Austen’s tombstone

Yet if the daughters of every clergyman in the Church of England could be buried within cathedrals, I think the cathedrals would be a lot more full. Yes, in Jane Austen’s case she died very close to the cathedral, but still, it didn’t feel like it added up. Standing there, I felt the sense that they knew, Austen’s family, or at the very least that they had a sense that her burial place might eventually become a place of pilgrimage for future generations to see. That she deserved to be buried as the famous were. Perhaps it was Henry, a fairly well-connected fellow, who had this future vision and arranged to have her buried here. He had acted as a sort of literary agent for her, and maybe he understood that her contribution to literature would come to be valued more and more in the future. She had not yet been publicly “outed” as the author of her work, but would be soon enough with the biography within the publication of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. I’m not the only one to speculate on this, and Collins Hemingway writes on it in greater detail in his post here at Austen Authors.

Ledger recording Jane Austen’s burial

Jane Austen’s work was, of course, increasingly valued, and the lack of mention of her authorship in that memorial was eventually rectified with not one but two additional memorials:

One of the additional memorials
The second of the additional memorials

It is undoubtedly tragic for us as readers that Jane Austen died so young. Beyond those chapters of Sanditon that were left, we cannot know where she would have gone with her works in the future, how her work would have further shaped the development of the novel as a genre. Yet it is less tragic if you look at it from the perspective of her life as a person.

What is the purpose of a life? To have impact on others? To shape the world? To create something lasting that will live on beyond one’s own death? When you look at it from this perspective, Jane Austen lived one of the fullest lives of anyone in history, in those 41 years she lived.

To me the most tragic thing about her life is that she did not get a chance to see the tremendous popularity of her work. How delightful it would have been to see her live on through the Victorian age, seeing her books become railway novels and enjoying both the literary and financial success that would have come from this. How delightful to allow her to defend herself against Charlotte Brontë, perhaps revisiting Northanger Abbey by writing a fierce parody of those romantic heroes and heroines of the moors.

She did not, sadly. But this is one of the reasons why I did not seek out that yellow house: Jane Austen lives on. She will outlive you and me and Colin Firth, and very possibly the entire human race. So long as there is some sentient being out there in the universe who will settle in to the words “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” whether those words are read, heard, or beamed directly into that sentient mind, Jane Austen did not really die in that yellow house. Her body might have died, but every word and every character lives yet, and always will.

I hope you all have enjoyed this series on my travels and seeking the cure as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing it with you:

Now for the giveaway: to close out the series and celebrate Jane Austen’s life and work, I’m giving away five more copies of the ebook [easyazon_link identifier=”B0741DCLL6″ locale=”US” tag=”austauth0d-20″]Pride and Prejudice: A Novel. In Three Volumes. (Annotated and Restored to 1813 Egerton First Edition)[/easyazon_link]. Post in the comments below to enter by midnight EST on Tuesday, March 20.

30 Responses to The Yellow House in Winchester

  1. Thanks for a lovely post with so many great pix, Sophie. I must admit that I did make a beeline for the yellow house on my visit this autumn (fall). I stayed in the ‘Jane Austen suite’ of a nearby hotel (sorry, I’m a sucker for that kind of thing…). I also took pix of the bench and rather overgrown 2000 memorial to Jane opposite the house. I like the fact that the yellow house is still occupied as a private residence, rather than preserved in amber as a museum.
    Gabrielle x (author of Four Riddles for Jane Austen and her artful maid, Tilly).

    • It really amazes me that it is still occupied as a private house. I think I read somewhere that maybe at the turn of the last century it was a shop and people kept coming in and asking about Jane Austen. So finally they put up a plaque and then all the local people started coming in and asking who Jane Austen was! Suffice to say I don’t think anyone would need to ask that anymore…even if they’ve never managed to hear about her in a literary capacity, she’s on the 10 pound note! Thanks for your comment, Gabrielle!

  2. I think we all want to leave a bit of ourselves behind when we die. And, she did. In a big way. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Very interesting read. Last year I myself was in Winchester to celebrate the life of Jane Austen. I hadn’t been to Winchester or any other of the places associated with Jane since my childhood. Somehow I lost track of Jane being removed to Ontario Canada for many decades. By while here I have grown to love her works and the story of her and her families lives. Last year I did the “pilgrimage “ that I had done in years gone by and reacquainted myself with Jane in closer proximity. My life here in Ontario consists of living through reenacting the history of the period, attending balls, feasting on Georgian food, studying the clothing, habits and manners of the time and working towards being a better Regency period dancer. Thank you for memories, like I too have.

    • Thank you for your comment, Elizabeth, and I’m so glad you got a chance to revisit those sites on your pilgrimage. I go to England every year but usually vary what I see…the 200th anniversary of her death meant there were a lot of special exhibits and things, so I took the opportunity to chase those around. It sounds like you have a wonderful time, recreating the Regency era in your reenactments!

  4. What a lovely tribute to our beloved author, Sophie. I feel that you have vicariously taken me on a Jane Austen pilgrimage. Is the exhibition permanent in Winchester Cathedral or just temporary? I would dearly love to physically visit all the sites you mentioned in future.

    • Thank you for your comment, Lúthien84! I’m not sure about the exhibition. I think at least some of the materials were on loan for the 200th anniversary of her death, but then again she is by far the most famous person buried there, so perhaps they’ll try to keep as much on display as they can.

  5. Sign me up for the contest! I would love the ebook. So jealous of your trip, and yet so well documented. Thank you for every photograph! I’m on a sci fi kick at present, and I agree that “beamed directedly into the sentient mind” is a perfect way to extend Austen’s presence forever!

    • You’re welcome, and thank you for your comment, Raiining! I wonder if it would be quite so satisfying to have a book beamed directly into your mind as reading it, but I don’t think we’ll get that sci-fi in our lifetimes to find out, haha.

  6. What a lovely post, Sophie. The information was very interesting, the photos wonderful, and surmising behind the why of her being buried there quite fascinating. I loved your pictures. I doubt I’ll ever get the chance to visit, drat. The end of your post was very moving. Thank you again.

    I was SO fortunate (and excited) to already win a copy of this book I will just wish everyone else the best of luck.

  7. Great article!! I was in Winchester, briefly, in 2016. I didn’t get to see the yellow house but did visit the grave in the Cathedral. It slightly over whelmed me, to be standing at her last resting place, awesome. The Cathedral itself is well worth a visit as it is a fabulous place and full of history. I would dearly love to go back again and spend a few days there. Thanks for bringing back the memories for me Sophie.

    • I enjoyed the cathedral generally for its history as well, Teresa. I had a chance to see it for the first time and Salisbury for the second on this trip, plus a Saxon church in Bradford on Avon, so I was quite fortunate on the architecture/history side. Thank you for your comment!

  8. What a fitting tribute to Jane Austen you have given us. Yes, she does live on and will continue to through her words and characters as you said. She has also inspired you and many others to continue the lives of her characters. As a reader, I am very thankful for that. We always want more! Thank You!

  9. I truly enjoyed reading your post. I only wish my husband had even a slight interest in visiting all the stops in Jane’s life, but alas, I’ll have to continue to read of other people’s travels. Thanks so much for sharing, I enjoyed it very much.

    • Thanks for your comment, lynnchar! Winchester does have some very good military history museums, so if your husband has an interest in that, perhaps you could “divide and conquer.” 🙂

  10. Thank you for sharing your trip with us, I enjoyed all the photos and posts describing everything.

  11. What a lovely post. I would love to go there. Although I live in England there are so few places I have actually visited. I am not a good traveller so I probably won’t get there but it was very nice to see it through your photos.
    Thank you so much for sharing.

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