Jane Austen at and in front of the Willis Museum

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On August 7, I decided to go back to Basingstoke to see the recently unveiled Jane Austen bronze statue standing in front of the Willis Museum. There I also planned to see one of the Sitting with Jane book benches and an exhibit called “Retail and Romance: Jane Goes to the Ball.”

In case you are unaware of the Willis Museum’s significance in the JA story, let me tell you that it was once Basingstoke town hall, and JA danced at the Basingstoke Assembly Rooms just steps away from this building where the old town hall used to be–actually in the open space in front of the museum, you know right where the statue stands!

By the way, this statue is “thought to be the first life-sized statue of Jane Austen.” However, according to my research, Jane Austen was believed to be about 5’7″-5’8″ (my height!), and this statue probably puts her at 5’3″-5’4″, thus contributing to a kind of small stature people seem to expect. In fact, the sculptor, Adam Roud, states that the statue reflects an image of the “daughter and a sister” who visited Basingtstoke. Perhaps he does not mean for the statue to appear diminutive, but couldn’t he have made it a little taller?

I also wonder about those hollow eyes. They are somewhat haunting.

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In the Basingstoke Gazette, Roud also says, ” It was my intention to sculpt a believable woman, someone who looks like they actually belong in the courtyard” as well as, “It is very difficult to get the right measure of what Jane Austen actually looked like, as there are so few surviving images. So I created the measure of what I think looks the best and most realistic.” The artist is happy with the sculpture, for he believes that it makes her seem like a real person turning in response to someone calling her.

In a video posted on BBC News.com, Roud explains the inspiration for the statue: “It’s like someone said ‘good morning, Jane,’ and she said ‘good morning’ back.” I can’t help but see this statue as a Belle from Beauty and the Beast, walking through town singing, “Little town…it’s a quiet village! Every day like the one before….” Then she returns her book to the library (and JA did check out books from libraries) before carrying on with her song, and her day. If she is our Belle, the town must find her odd, no? 😀

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Let’s take a walk inside the Willis, shall we?

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The exhibit in the opening gallery focuses on late 18th- and early 19th-century shopping! It’s like they knew I was visiting, or something….Because of this subject matter, the exhibit includes a lot of material items.

Upon first entering the Willis, one finds Jane Austen’s famous, and by now well traveled, pelisse. It was on display in Winchester for a while, and now it stands in Basingstoke. I did not take pictures of it because I was under the impression–again–that I could not take pictures of it or the Austen silhouette, which was also displayed in the exhibit.

Everything else displayed in the exhibit was completely new to me! My favorite part of the exhibit is this section:

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I saw items in the case that I had never seen or heard of before, so this was fantastic!

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In the images above you can see dolls, tiny dominos, playing cards, and puzzle pieces (among other things). Below I include some close ups of a few of the items:

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This last game is my favorite. “Would you like to be married in half an hour”? Hmm. Didn’t we just meet? I think I’ll pass! 😀

Other display cases in the exhibit includes items you might buy as you shop for a day out or for the ball.

Key reminder: women weren’t the only ones shopping.

The remainder of the exhibit focuses on clothing. I really like the set up, for it makes you feel like you are at a ball.

Overall, I give this exhibit an A! I have seen many exhibits this summer, and this is one of the fun ones.

 

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