This is Jane Austen’s desk
From 1809 to 1817, while working here, Jane Austen revised her first three novels — Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) — and wrote three more — Emma (1815), Northanger Abbey (1818), and Persuasion (1818). A seventh, Sanditon, was unfinished at her death in 1817. She was 41. Her mother and sister stayed in the house until Cassandra’s death in 1845.
Jane Austen’s Desk Haunts Me
Let me count the ways:
- It’s tiny.
- It’s shiny.
- It has twelve sides.
- A quill pen is involved.
- As if a quill pen isn’t enough to trip you up, in those days you probably weren’t even allowed to write with your left hand. With that quill pen.
- There’s no drawer. And yet, paradoxically, the area is tidy.
- I’d last ten minutes – fifteen max – in that chair.
Ideal Writing Conditions
When I advise my book-coaching clients how to approach their writing tasks with more ease and comfort, I have never once suggested they write at a tiny, shiny, twelve-sided desk with a quill pen.
And when I sit down to work on an article or a piece of fiction, I greatly prefer an upholstered seating device. Also, it’s nice to put my feet up and to use my laptop, you know, on my lap. That way, my left hand doesn’t smear the ink all over the page. (And hey, thanks, Fifth-Grade Teacher Who Shall Remain Nameless, for that permanent trauma.)
Actually, it’s the photo of Jane Austen’s desk that haunts me. I’ve never visited the museum in the Hampshire countryside Southwest of London.
Something tells me that if and when I do stop in for a visit (ideally on her birthday, 16 December, when the museum offers free admission, tea, coffee, and mince pies) I’ll want to stand as close to this desk as the plexiglass partition permits, to soak up the vibe. I’ll want to look out that window, imagining what the author saw as she sat there at her tiny, shiny, twelve-sided desk.
Extra: For Young Writers in the UK
By the way, entries for the Jane Austen’s House Museum Young Writers’ Competition are now open. The contest is for young people living in the UK aged 11-17. You can enter short poems or short stories, on the topic “An Interesting Remembrance.” The rules do not specify where you should sit, or what writing implements you must use. Deadline: 31 December 2014.