Wednesday 13th September 2023 to Monday 6th May 2024

Venue: Chawton House

To celebrate our 20th year of opening, the Autumn exhibition at Chawton House will be installed throughout the house, displaying some of the most precious treasures in the collection, and drawing on both Knight and Austen family history and early women’s writing with never-before-displayed objects, new acquisitions, old favourites, and items unique to Chawton House. 

Owned by the Knight family for 445 years, Chawton House is best known amongst literary circles as having belonged to Jane Austen’s brother Edward. In 1809, it was Edward who gave his sisters, Jane and Cassandra, and their mother, a home at Chawton Cottage, where Jane wrote and revised her famous novels. Edward himself resided at Godmersham Park in Kent, and in the Library, we display books from the Godmersham Park library, consulted by Jane Austen during the months she spent visiting Edward, which now form part of the Knight collection. 

In our main exhibition space, the first part focuses on the Chawton House story. Whilst property traditionally passed to male heirs, the women who owned and lived in Chawton House played a crucial part in its history, both before and after Jane Austen’s lifetime. From the formidable Elizabeth Knight (1674-1737), the first female squire of Chawton House, to green-fingered Florence Knight (1850-1935), to whom the development of the gardens owes a huge debt, the women of Chawton House are foregrounded in this part of the exhibition. Their lives are represented in the letters they wrote, the cookbooks they contributed to, the novels they owned and their personal notebooks, providing snapshots from Chawton’s past. On display here is our latest exciting acquisition, a music book owned and signed by Jane Austen. 

Pictured: The music book in the library of Chawton House, displaying Jane Austen’s signature on the inside page.
Jane Austen’s Music book has been discovered after it was missing for 40 years
© Simon Czapp/Solent News & Photo Agency
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The more recent story of Chawton House includes the renovation of the house in the 1990s, the establishment of the charity, and the birth of the women’s writing collection now at our core. The second part of the exhibition focuses on this unique collection of early women’s writing (1660-1860). One of Chawton House’s missions is to aid the recovery of these women writers, sharing their lives and work, and exhibitions over the last 7 years have prioritised topics that challenge commonplace ideas about what women were capable of in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They have marked the anniversaries of Jane Austen’s publications and considered the works that influenced this most famous of women writers, but have also  explored fame and feminism; charted the rise of the Gothic novel; introduced women in professions traditionally considered male; displayed the work of botanical women; considered the costumes worn by sporting women; followed female travel writers on their intrepid journeys; and mapped the networks created by women letter-writers. This display showcases the strengths of the Chawton House collection and research done to date, drawing together the star items of these exhibitions. In the Long Gallery, a display of our unique cookery books draws on new work by visiting researchers in the first half of our anniversary year.

Included in admission price.