TV HISTORIAN Lucy Worsley has admitted she was close to tears at a poignant tribute to Jane Austen at Chawton.
“I almost blubbed but I just about held it together,” said Lucy, who is an ambassador for Jane Austen’s House Museum.
“It was sad and celebratory at the same time as Jane Austen is so loved and admired.”
It was 200 years ago last week that the author left her home at Chawton for her final journey to Winchester where she died some weeks later.
To mark this significant occasion, Lucy laid flowers from the garden at the museum at the memorial plaque outside the front of the house.
And then she paid an emotional tribute to Austen, reading out the last letter she wrote from her Hampshire home detailing her ill health and her plans to leave for Winchester.
The memorial plaque was originally unveiled on the centenary of Austen’s death in July 1917, and has recently been conserved, with funding from the Jane Austen Society of North America, for the bicentenary commemorations.
Lucy told the Post that while researching and writing her new book Jane Austen at Home, published last month, she celebrated her 42nd birthday, but Austen died when she was 41, which gave her pause for thought.
She explained the idea behind her book: “Jane Austen is quite notoriously a private person.
“We don’t have her diary so we don’t know what she was thinking. So I came to her through something concrete – her home and possessions.”
As a museum curator – the Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces – as well as a BBC presenter of history programmes, she knew how much objects from the “nitty gritty of life” could reveal.
There was a misconception that Austen moved in society circles that she addresses too.
“People may have seen films with Georgian property porn, big houses and mansions, and thought that Jane Austen moved in that world, but she was a little bit lower down the social scale,” she explained.
Lucy, who has donned a bonnet or two for TV shows on the Regency period, has her favourites among Austen’s books and characters.
“Most people would go for Pride and Prejudice or Persuasion, her first book and then one from her twilight, but I like Emma, about a “difficult, uppity woman”.
Her love interest Mr Knightley was her preference when it came to Austen’s men, not the usual Mr Darcy-type.
For Lucy, Austen is up there with the Bard when it comes to literacy legacy.
“She one of the all-time great authors in the way that Shakespeare is. Her work really stands the test of time. I find her as inspiring and interesting as a person as well as a writer. She still speaks to us.”
Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley is published by Hodder & Stoughton. The memorial plaque at Chawton House features in a 41 Objects exhibition at Jane Austen’s House Museum. This is the story of Austen’s life and legacy, told using 41 items from the museum collection. Visit www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk