Jane Austen left Chawton on may 24, 1817, to seek medical help in the nearby city of Winchester. Elizabeth Jane Timms traces those final weeks of her life. line drawings by Ellen Hill c1901
The house on college street in Winchester was the last place that Jane Austen called home. Home to her for fewer than eight weeks, it is certainly the saddest of all her addresses. Seventeen miles from the cottage at Chawton, where she lived from 1809 to 1817 with her mother, her sister Cassandra and their friend Martha Lloyd, it was for painful reasons that she was forced to move again. We must hope that it was a small comfort to Jane that Winchester – where she was going – was still very much within her beloved Hampshire. Probably because of growing illness, she had abandoned work on her new novel – later published as Sanditon in 1925 – noting the date (March 18, 1817) that she laid aside her pen.
Scenes from Jane’s own novels come to mind here – of Harris the apothecary at the bedside of Marianne Dashwood, or perhaps the sad irony of Mrs Bennet, surrounded by her smelling salts and complaining about the pains in her head and the beatings at her heart. The exact nature of Jane’s illness has been the subject of great speculation with a variety of theories suggested, ranging from Addison’s disease (a detailed posthumous diagnosis by Sir Zachary Cope) to Hodgkin’s disease. Initially Jane was treated by William Curtis, the Alton apothecary, until he pronounced himself unable to help her further.
Jane and Cassandra left Chawton on May 24, 1817, travelling to Winchester in the carriage of their brother Henry, with Henry riding beside them, making the journey in pouring rain. Jane had come to be treated by the highly respected Dr Lyford, consulting surgeon of the County Hospital on Parchment Street, who treated his patients in their own homes. Jane wrote to her nephew James-Edward on May 27, 1817: “Mr Lyford says he will cure me & if he fails I shall draw up a Memorial & lay it before the Dean and Chapter & have no doubt of redress from that Pious, Learned & Disinterested Body.”
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
How Did Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice Become A Christmas Story?
HO, HO, HO…how did Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice become a Christmas story? Devoney looser investigates
Jane's Beloved Friend
Judith Stove introduces her new biography of Anne Lefroy
Austen's Festive Music
A LARGE COLLECTION OF MUSIC WRITTEN OUT BY JANE AUSTEN REVEALS SOME POPULAR NURSERY RHYMES AND HER CHRISTMAS FAVOURITES, WRITES ROS OSWALD. PICTURES FROM THE NOVELS, BY CE BROCK
Darcy's Picture Gallery
WHAT MIGHT ELIZABETH BENNET HAVE SEEN AS SHE WANDERED THROUGH THE CORRIDORS OF PEMBERLEY? VICTORIA C SKELLY CONSIDERS HOW THE OWNERS OF GREAT ESTATES IN JANE AUSTEN’S TIME VIEWED ART
Women Of Peterloo
MEN WERE NOT THE ONLY ONES DEMANDING REFORM IN AUGUST 1819. MANY WOMEN CAME TO MANCHESTER FOR A DAY OF PROTEST, AND NOT ALL OF THEM MADE IT HOME, AS SUE WILKES REPORTS
Inside The Abbey
Jane Austen’s gothic novel was published shortly after her death, but it had been a long time in preparation. Liz Philosophos Cooper traces the history of this most unusual of Austen’s novels.
Candour And Comfort
Female friendships outside the family group rarely feature in Jane Austen’s fiction, yet she and Cassandra enjoyed a close relationship with the three youngest daughters of many down park, Hampshire as Hazel Jones explores
Jane And The Duke
Military conflict was never far away during Jane Austen’s lifetime. Collins Hemingway explores its impact and a uncovers a remarkable connection between jane and a duke of wellington
Keeping The Faith
Quakers, Catholics and Methodists fared badly compared with Anglicans in the Christian Britain of a Jane Austen’s time, writes Penelope Friday
Austen In Australia
The Jane Austen society of Australia