Thursday, December 11, 2008

Stonehenge, Winchester, and Jane Austen's House

The BCA took us on our last day-trip last Saturday, and it was a really good one! We got up at around 8:30 to catch our bus into the country, and nearly two hours later we were there... in the middle of a bunch of sheep pastures on a plain in Salisbury. For an archaeology nut, you'd think I'd be more excited by something like this. Not that it wasn't fun, because I've been learning about Stonehenge and keeping tabs on our evolving theories about it since I was little, but we were there for an hour. A whole hour. It takes ten minutes to walk around and photograph the thing, another twenty to listen to Tim Copeland (my archaeology professor) complain about the historical inaccuracies of the Visitors' Centre mural, and a further five minutes to look through the gift shop. Anyways, it's something I always wanted to see - ever since my first 'Wonders of the Ancient World' special on Nova - and I did it. I'm so cool.

Then we drove another 45 minutes to the city of Winchester in Hampshire. It's a really cool town; I never would have thought to go there on my own, but I'm really glad we did. It has a good mix of buildings from all eras, a lot of fun tourist-type attractions, and a really long High Street / shopping district. We were there right at the peak of the Christmas shopping season, so they had a lot of little karts and stalls in the courtyard around the Cathedral. Elizabeth found a stall belonging to the Bath Aqua Glass company, (the people who made the necklace I bought on my trip to Bath) and she bought herself one similar to the one I got earlier this year. She must have pulled it out and showed me three or four times - I guess she really wanted one. I think it's the first gift she's bought for herself since we got here, so I'm glad she found it. How lucky do you have to be to find the one thing you've wanted since coming here on your last trip to a new city?

Winchester Cathedral looked very interesting from the outside, but - unfortunately - we only had a limited amount of time in Winchester, and the Cathedral cost £4. So we satisfied ourselves by walking around it, taking some photos, and doing a bit more shopping. Winchester is one of the largest Cathedrals in England, and it's built over the site of the Old Minster Cathedral (a pre-Norman structure). As a result, there are a lot of artifacts in the "new" (build circa 1080) Winchester Cathedral associated with the Saxons and their patron saints. St. Swithun - an English saint associated with the weather - was supposed to be buried somewhere around there. Well, they say he was buried there, but you know how things go with saints: his hair gets sent to Rome, his head is moved to no-one-knows-where, an arm's in a country parish down the road to protect against drought... They've got his official 'tomb' behind the altar in the "new" Cathedral.

After the Cathedral, we walked up to the Great Hall - all that's left of Winchester Castle - and saw King Arthur's Round Table. OK, so it's obviously not the real round table (don't get into an Arthurian debate with me; right now 'real' means 'real,' and you non-believers can just skip this paragraph). This one was made in the 13th Century and with its current colours in the 16th. It's got the names of Arthur's more popular knights written around the edges, and a great big Tudor rose in the middle.

In fact, there are dozens of Tudor roses all around Winchester, now that I think about it. They must have really been amazingly pro-Tudor to repaint what was then thought to be the original Arthurian table with the current King's logo. Not that the people of Winchester would have had much choice in the matter - I'm sure if the King commissions a new coat of paint for a national treasure, you acquiesce with or without the propaganda. After all, he's the King, he's causing religious riots, and you have a Cathedral that will very likely be demolished in the coming years if he decides to get serious about that whole 'Anglican' thing.

After our time in Winchester, we got back on the bus and went into the outskirts of the city to see Jane Austen's house. This is the home her brother Edward gave her - the Chawton House, I think they call it - after he inherited his uncle's wealth, and this is where she did most of her famous writing. Well, she didn't start it here, but she did all of her editing on the novels by 'a Lady' here, and was living here for the entirety of her published career up until the time of her death. As far as 'The Jane Austen Houses' go, this is the main one to see. I'm sure it wasn't as important to her literary career as her time in Bath - after all, those were the formative years and gave her lots of material to work with in her later novels - but having the freedom to write when she pleased, a quiet space to work, and the lessened social constraints of the country must have helped quite a bit.

Speaking of "a quiet space to work," this is the desk where she sat after breakfast and completed all of her manuscripts. It's very small - I was surprised. Personally, I need about two square yards of space to spread out all of my things if I'm going to have a productive writing session. You should see my desk -- it's a mess. If I had to churn out stories (nevermind assignments!) without a laptop and with no room for my copious notes and books, I'd explode. Nothing would ever get done. (Not that anything has got done; I've edited the first two chapters of my manuscript more times than I can count, taken three different sets of notes for chapter 5, and assigned myself a reading list a mile long before starting chapter 3... at this rate, I'll be done in another two years. This seems like way too much work for what started out as a self-imposed stylistic training exercise.)


Burkesmouthpiece said...

Burke wants to know when you are going to be around to meet him. You're not doing J-term, right? We go back to State College on the 12th of January.

Ray Yaegle said...

No, I am doing J-Term. I'll be around all semester!