Jane Austen ~ A Day in the Life Of… : Guest Post by Tony Grant

UPDATE: see below for the tale of the bad apostrophe in Southampton…and Tony’s fix!

Dear Readers: I welcome Tony Grant today as he offers us an imaginary diary entry for a single day in the life Jane Austen, a day in Southampton, a town that Tony knows very well – wouldn’t it be lovely if such a diary existed!!


A Jane Austen Manuscript – British Library



By Tony Grant

As we are now into celebrating the 200th anniversary of the publishing of Emma by Jane Austen (published December 23, 1815), I have taken a scene from that novel as my cue for this fanciful piece of writing.

Once they have arrived at the top of Box Hill on their excursion from Hartfield and Highbury, Emma Woodhouse, Mrs Elton, Mr Knightley, Mr Weston, Miss Bates et al are affronted by Frank Churchill’s assertive direction for them all to talk.

Box Hill, Emma © BBC 2009

Box Hill, Emma © BBC 2009

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am ordered by Miss Woodhouse (who wherever she is, presides,) to say, that she desires to know what you are all thinking of.”

Mr Knightley answered this request with,

“Is Miss Woodhouse sure she would like to hear what we are all thinking of?”

The whole idea of privacy and private thoughts is the crux of this scene. Do any of us want to say what we are actually thinking? Don’t we in polite society automatically set up a barrier between what we think and what we say? We all would like to tell the truth and I am sure we generally do, but within limits. All sorts of safe guards come into play. We don’t want to insult anybody or reveal our true feelings in case of embarrassment or revealing something too personal about ourselves. Where can we reveal our true selves? Maybe we never do. But certain things can get us close. Writing a personal diary is one of them. A diary that we keep secret and just put our own personal thoughts, ideas and feelings into is a private place we can inhabit.  Samuel Pepys even wrote his famous diary in a coded short hand. Anybody in his household picking it up would not have had a clue what he had written. Samuel Pepys probably intended that nobody should ever have access to his inner life and thoughts -especially the King or other government officials and certainly not his wife.

The 19th century was a strange world in the sense that privacy was not what we would think of it today. Many people were servants who often shared garret rooms. Where was privacy for them? The masters and mistresses of a wealthy house had an extended family that included their servants who lived with them. Where was their privacy?

However, the idea of privacy and private thoughts today is maybe not what we might think also. With the internet, social media and the logging of all our most personal details by obscure internet providers and companies is there such a thing as privacy at all?

As far as we know Jane Austen did not keep a diary. All that she wrote, novels, letters and a few poems and some juvenilia were for others to read. They were intended for an audience.

Where could the private Jane Austen, the Jane Austen with an inner life not for publication go? Many of her beliefs and thoughts, I am sure, come through in her novels and letters. However they are her thoughts chosen, subtly inserted and intended to be read by others. We can get a sense of her as a person, but what of those raw unedited emotions, her deepest moods, her deepest thoughts, not for publication?


Southampton 1801

I have used some real events taken from some of her letters while she lived in Southampton (Austen lived there from 1806-1809) and then rewrote them as though Jane had written a diary. It is a diary entry about one day, for nobody else to read, EVER!!!!  A secret place for her thoughts and emotions.


Southampton ,Tuesday 6th January 1807

Jane's house in Castle Square located at the base of the keep 2

Jane’s house in Castle Square, located at the base of the keep

We have been here for nearly four months now. This Castle Square house is well positioned within the town walls. Our garden backs on to the towns great medieval defences. The top parapet makes a picturesque, and moss embossed vertical expanse against which we grow raspberries and gooseberries. I think the sun must heat up the ancient stones and the heat from the stones brings along the fruit bearing shrubs admirably. We have already had one harvest, soon after we arrived, last October. Molly and Jenny, our two servants who we hired in the town, collected three huge baskets of the juicy fruit. We have had raspberry and gooseberry pies ever since. Surely our stock must run out soon and then we will have to wait all through the summer until autumn comes once more for those delights to be ripe enough to pick once more?

Rear of the Juniper Berry2

Rear of the Juniper Berry, site of Jane Austen’s house


Sight of Austen’s house in Castle Square, cBarnum

[with thanks to Tony for “fixing” this sign and making all of us grammarians out there rest easy.  Jane may not have been strong on punctuation,  but we shall assume that she is pleased as well…]

From my very own room at the back of the house I have some wonderfully entertaining views. Fishermen pull their boats up to the narrow harbour wall beneath our garden and spend their time sewing nets and scraping barnacles off the keels of their skiffs. I often try and listen to their conversations but their accents are so thick with oys and aghs and yeh’s. I am all a wonder at what a ,”mush,” is or a ,”nipper?” I can never quite fully catch what they say but the other day I heard two burly sailors nearly come to fisticuffs, “ Oy, mush what yer staring at?” said one rather aggressively to the other. I turned away quickly in case they saw me watching them. I might get a few choice words aimed my way. I blame it on The Royal Standard Inn just along the walls from us, next to the postern gateway – A drinking den of iniquity if ever there was one. Sometimes I hear a song, maybe a shanty, of some sort. I often see fishing smacks setting sail for Southampton Water to fish for the local dabs which are a great delicacy. Often a Man of War ventures this far up the Solent and anchors off Marchwood, in the Test estuary. They come up to the refitting yard I have been told. They get new masts there. The proximity to the New Forest provides a ready source of timber.

Southampton 1740

Southampton area 1740 map

On a clear bright day the New Forest stretches green and verdant in the distance far across the sparkling waters surrounding this peninsula on which Southampton is chiefly situated. We really must take a carriage ride there.

Today a new man arrived to tend our garden. He seems much more reliable than the last one who wanted more remuneration than my mother could afford. He says he is going to replace our forlorn and stringy wild roses with a stronger fuller variety. And some syringas, some laburnum, which will look beautiful and luxuriant, dripping with their blooms all through the summer months. We will get some Cowper’s Line too. Oh! that reminds me of Cowper:



There’s not an echo round me,
But I am glad should learn,
How pure a fire has found me,
The love with which I burn.
For none attends with pleasure
To what I would reveal;
They slight me out of measure,
And laugh at all I feel.



“The love with which I burn.”

Burn with love. What must that be like? Cassandra, my so called sister, berates me with my past errors, hah! Martha, friend, is she? Sometimes my mother, when she is in one of her overbearing moods, teases me about that boy, that stuttering poor boy, Bigg-Wither who proposed. What was I thinking? How could I? Oh yes, “and laugh at all I feel,” indeed. I can feel my stomach tie into a knot as I remember even now. What crushing anguish and embarrassment that has caused me. I wanted a burning love. I wanted a pure fire inside me. Why can’t I ever experience that? I feel all this energy inside me wanting to burst out.

I know, it does burst out. My writing. My poor substitute for real lived life and love. I can make my characters experience truelove. I know how it all works. I can make it happen for them but, not, me. Look at those poor puppets, Elizabeth and Darcy. Ha! Another stuttering fool. He changed into something though. I did that for Elizabeth. No Bigg-Wither for her. There I go again. Darcy is NOT real!!!! Why do I let myself go off into this fantasy world? My fantasies are better than my lived life. How can that be? A spinster, destined for what?

Mary, my brother’s new wife, is pregnant. She is full with new life. She has expanded, rather quickly, shall we say. It is

Francis Austen - wikipedia

Francis Austen – wikipedia

Frank’s command that we be here, to live with and pander after, his wonderful Mary. I sound too abrasive, I know. We all love her. But we are here doing our duty, for our dearest brother. They only had a short time after the wedding too. He must have put all his efforts and strength into it. Another for this baby-making family. Ha! They have two spare wombs in Cassandra and myself as well. I wonder what will become of our two dry pods? I wonder what it would be like to carry a child?

Cassandra still languishes at Godmersham looking after Edward’s baby. A maiden aunt. Is that all she is good for poor thing? I know that she is worth far more. I know she takes my share of these, duties. It is a form of slavery. It should be banned by parliament. It is all so unfair. There I go. It truly is a man’s world.

What is that awful sound? I hear my mother calling. That shriek. That demanding forceful will of hers. Damn her.

Mrs Austen

Mrs Austen

What does she want? I will be back. Here, in this little book, this little place, are all my real thoughts. My real thoughts! It’s where I can truly be myself.

I want to go on writing in here forever and nowhere else. Where else can I say these things, that nobody will hear, nobody will see? Not even you, mother!

“I am coming!”

I seem to say those words a lot.

………… Ah, all it was, was piffle. She, wanted to tell me, once more, about her finances. She had £85 at the close of last year. She spent £27 during the year. At the start of this year she has £99. A triumph!! But I know this already. She has told me twenty times. And she will tell me again, next week.

And we have visitors tonight. How many, is not sure. Can we feed them? Have we got enough fuel to keep the fire going to warm them? Nobody knows. My mother and her finances don’t know.

Marquis of Lansdowne's castle and Jane's house

Marquis of Lansdowne’s castle and Jane’s house

…………………. So they came. Mr Husket, Lord Lansdowne’s painter, or interior decorator I should say, came across from his Lordships “castle.” Mr Harrison called in with his two daughters. They laugh a lot but are not too silly, thank goodness. Mr Debary with his sister came too. Most of them arrived about 7 o’clock. The men were all wrapped up, buttoned to the neck, in great coats and the ladies wore thick pelisses and carried umbrellas against the rain. Why couldn’t the rain stop them from coming? But they came. A house-full. We stoked up the fire, (at what expense?) so it heated the dining room admirably. We drank tea and Jenny and Molly worked hard at providing muffins and fruit cake. What did we play? Oh yes, we had a pool of commerce and a table of spillikins. Mr Harrison won at everything. He was so pleased with himself. He grins a lot. His fat cheeks became puffed out and swollen like two full cows udders. For tuppence I would have milked them for him and given him a round slap in the process!

Southampton Beach

Southampton Beach

The weather is damp. A wind blows off the water. It carries a chill. I am shivering now in my unheated room. I can actually smell the salt in the air. There is a mixture of seaweed in it too.

Hark! I just heard Lord Lansdowne’s coach coming out of his stables opposite us. At this time of night of all things. I wonder what’s up? The smell of straw and horse dung can be overpowering at times from that place. However the wind is from the sea tonight so we are spared that malodorous problem. I feel fatigued. I will have a little nap. Tomorrow these private and wonderful white pages await me again. I would never write another novel if it were not the fact the writing of them provides me a few extra pounds and pence….


Some additional pictures of Jane Austen’s Southampton: [I had the pleasure in May 2014 of touring all around Southampton with Tony – some of these pictures are mine, some his – it was a glorious day despite drenching rains…]

A medieval shop

A medieval shop


Catchcold Tower - part of the medieval walls

Catchcold Tower – part of the medieval walls


High Street, Southampton 1805

High Street, Southampton 1805


Jane goes to the spa-3

Jane goes to the spa


St Michaels medieval Church

St Michael’s medieval Church


Jane's school was close to The Bargate

Jane’s school was close to The Bargate



Theatre Royal – where Jane visited (cBarnum)



Dolphin Hotel fireplace – Jane danced in this room (cBarnum)


Dolphin Hotel Sign - JA danced here

Dolphin Hotel Sign – JA danced here (cBarnum)


Bay window in the ballroom

Bay window in the Dolphin Inn Ballroom


View from the walls

View from the walls


Thank you Tony for this interesting foray into a fantasy Jane Austen diary entry! Please comment – if you could read a diary entry of Jane Austen’s, what inner-most thoughts of hers would you most want to read about?

c2016 Jane Austen in Vermont [all images from Tony Grant unless otherwise indicated]

16 thoughts on “Jane Austen ~ A Day in the Life Of… : Guest Post by Tony Grant

  1. Beautifully imagined, Tony, and so wonderfully illustrated, the combination brings 19th century Southampton to life again to a remarkable degree. If I could read her “diary,” I’d like to know more about her writing process than her love life. ;-) By the way, don’t you think it would be a good deed to take up a collection to correct the grammar on the Jane Austen’s House plaque? Such an eyesore (“…the Austen’s garden)!


    • Hi Diana. Yes, a faux pas. It needs changing.However, town and city councils over here are making cut backs in their budgets. I am not sure this would be a priority for them. What I will do though, the next time I am in Southampton, is go and stick a label over the offending mistake. What do you think? Have a lovely day,Diana.


      • I think you would be doing a good service that would keep grammarian visitors from flinching, Tony, and I hope you do it! No, we can hardly expect a civic body would actually correct the sign, but it does look bad. Take care and Happy New Year.


  2. Hi Sarah. Thank you for commenting. As to Jane’s writing process, I think I would have to read up on what Katheryn Sutherland has researched. Sutherland caused a controversy suggesting that Murray, Jane’s publisher, had a gentleman called William Gifford edit her writing. I think, from what I remember Sutherland wrote, Austen’s work consisted of more dialogue than the final published editions and also that she may have included Hampshire colloquialisms. I like to think of Jane with a rural Hampshire accent and using local vocabulary. It would reveal a slightly different Jane I think. In my above, rather amateurish go at a diary entry, I have included some old, “Southampton” words that she may have heard. I don’t know, maybe I will have a go at rewriting a paragraph of one her novels using some ripe, Hampshire, country phrases. That might be fun. OR, not as the case may be. Ha! ha! Anyway, nice to hear from you. Have a lovely week. Tony.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like that part of the diary, Tony, and I’d be interested to know more about the local vocabulary. Experimenting with rewriting a paragraph from one of her novels does sound like fun. It reminds me of a writing exercise the Canadian writer and writing instructor Sarah Selecky mentioned on her website the other day. She recommends choosing a scene or story you wish you could have written, and then copying it word for word in your own handwriting, twice. Then, she says, start writing a third passage, changing the nouns, verbs, and adverbs, but keeping the syntax and structure. She says it will probably feel silly, but that it’s worth doing the exercise because “the rhythm of the sentences” will now be “propelled by your own words.” I haven’t tried the exercise, but if I did, I’d probably choose a passage from Jane Austen. If you do decide to try your experiment, I hope you (and/or Deb) will share it with us.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ok, all you grammarians out there – to what is Diana referring in her comment above – how _should_ the sign read??? and how many of you are completely bothered by this?? – like you- can’t-sleep bothered – should the City Council create a fund to change it?? – or should Tony just use duck tape and restore our sanity?


    • Typos on Facebook or wherever don’t bother me, but when a city has taken the trouble to create a plaque to honor an author and it sits there for decades, does it really have to have “the Austen’s garden” instead of “the Austens’ garden” on it? And, um, while we’re obnoxiously at it, it’s DUCT tape, Deb (though the incorrect “duck tape” has passed into common usage). Diana, DUCKING and running!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ha! of course it is DUCT tape Diana (it is a staple of life in Vermont) – thanks for the correction! (no need to DUCK and run…) – I have a 9-year old niece who collects the stuff – now available in all manner of designs – and why I think of it as DUCK tape, having thankfully nothing to do with “Duck Dynasty” – yikes! And I agree, it should be corrected – so Tony, there is a task for you!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. If I could read a Jane Austen diary entry, I’d most like to see, as Diana and Sarah mention, what she has to say about her writing – how we _cling_ to the few things she does write about her works in progress, like diamonds in the sand. I can imagine that a good number of the letters that didn’t get passed down read like diary entries as she wrote to her sister about all the daily goings-on – but what we would never have, even if all such letters were preserved, is what she would have written in a diary when she and Cassandra were together.

    I also, romantic sop that I am, _would_ like to know a bit more about her real-life loves, who her favorite Heroes and Heroines were and how much based on real people, and what her intentions were for “Sanditon”…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for commenting,”southamptonlady.” I was born and bred in Southampton. I come from Woolston, the other side of the Itchen. I moved to South London in my early twenties and trained as a teacher.Nice to hear from somebody who comes from Southampton.

    Liked by 1 person

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