By Sandy Bregman
My Most Intriguing Moment with Jane Austen
While studying at Oxford, our class took a day-long field trip to Winchester. This included a stop at the church grounds where Jane Austen’s mother and sister Cassandra, are buried. Their headstones are in the small burial ground off to the side of the church. It was a beautiful English country setting in July 2008. My parents had recently passed away and I felt a connection to these two Austen family members who, though together, were far away from the rest of their large family and the community of which they had been a part. Like Jane’s family, my family core was dwindling as members of my generation and the next were dispersing to far flung locales.
Our next stop was at Winchester Cathedral and the driver described a few choices, including a walk along the waterside, a walk around the Cathedral grounds, including the burial grounds and some ancient excavations, a walk to town for lunch, or a tour of the Cathedral itself. Three of us walked around together and couldn’t agree what to do. We did a quick walk around the immediate grounds. It began raining, so we decided to go into the Cathedral. As luck would have it, we were the only students on our bus to get inside that day. We were met at the door by the caretaker who explained that we would have to hurry through because the Cathedral would close within 20 or 30 minutes for a chorale performance that day. Because he was worried that we might not see it all in such a short time, he gave us a guided tour. The Cathedral was beautiful, but when we walked onto Jane’s grave imbedded into the floor, I felt chills. To be this close to Jane Austen’s genius and creativity was mind boggling. The caretaker explained the plaque on the floor which identified Jane could not say anything about her being a writer or published author because that was not a proper activity for a lady at the time. When I consider the difficulties my generation of women had in finding jobs and careers commensurate to our education and potentials in the 1960s, I just imagine the heartbreak she must have endured in her lifetime when she couldn’t claim credit for her increasingly popular novels or allow herself to be seen writing at her small desk sitting at the front window of the cottage she shared with her mother and sister.
Ten years after Jane’s death, her family put up a plaque on the Cathedral wall in front of her grave. This plaque credits Jane for her writing and her published work. Standing there in her presence was an inspiring experience. There was enough magic in that moment to last a lifetime.
That magical moment has been enhanced through my participation in the newly formed Greater Phoenix JASNA group. If you love Jane Austen, I encourage you to join us.