You may remember back in April I spoke about organising a holiday in Hampshire for some friends, our first Novel Holiday, with a set book in an area that included places to visit that celebrated either the book or the author. We got back just over a week ago.
We stayed in a lovely wood cabin in the New Forest. There were 4 of us altogether, myself L, and S, A and R. R stayed for 4 nights, and the rest of us had the cabin for a week.
Although Bath is heavily associated with Jane Austen, Hampshire is where she lived most of her life so it was perfect for this type of holiday.
Our set books were Emma by Austen, and also a contemporary novel, The Blue Fox by Sjon, which we were to discuss on holiday. I didn't know how that part of the holiday would go, but I needn't have worried because the discussions went really well.
We talked about Emma on the first morning after breakfast. Accompanied by a handout with some context, the conversation covered opinions about the book and the characters, and went on to include feminism and the rights of women, marriage, and also the historical contexts of the book. Not everyone had finished the book, but the discussion still went on for an hour and a half anyway. R, who had read all of Jane Austen's novels years ago, really enjoyed re-reading Emma so much, she said she wanted to read the others again. A had not read it but wanted to at the end of the discussion and started the book while on holiday. When we had finished talking, it seemed a good time to have our bookswap, where a number of books found new homes. I came away with 2...The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw, and The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.
The following day was our Jane Austen day. We visited Steventon first, where her father and brother had been rectors at the village church, and Jane lived her earlier years in a house that is no longer there. You can see her brothers grave in the church yard and the setting is really peaceful. We then drove to Chawton where her house in the village is now a Jane Austen museum. She moved here after living in Bath and there is a lot of memorabilia here, as well as information about her life. The table where she wrote her later novels, Emma and Persuasion, is still there. The gardens are also pretty, as is the village. We didn't have time to walk to the church but Jane's sister and mother are buried there. Lastly we drove to Winchester where Jane is buried in the cathedral. You can see her grave stone as well as the monument to her life and work. The cathedral has also exhibited a display about her life.
The following day we spoke about The Blue Fox. I had enjoyed it, as had R. S and A were more perplexed by it and A felt she hadn't understood it at all. Our discussion, which took about an hour, confirmed this to her. We examined the format of the book, the style, and also its 3 parts. As we did this, more meanings came to light. We also discussed whether the references to Icelandic legends enhanced or detracted from the book, with none of us knowing the background to them. Two of us thought that it added to the mysteriousness, but two of us felt they were missing out on some of it.
After talking we did our lucky dip book. I got Ines of my Soul by Isabelle Allende. We then talked about our recommendations and I compiled a list, as well as a list of all the other books that had come up during our discussions, to send on after the holiday.
Of course we did lots of other things that were not book related...walking in the New Forest, a visit to Salisbury, and also a day at Mottisfont Abbey (a National Trust property with beautiful gardens full of butterflies, including a Victorian walled garden). We also watched the excellent and very funny Lost in Austen series on DVD.
Everyone has said they really enjoyed the holiday and would be interested in doing another one next year. No one said that they were sick of Jane Austen at the end, mainly because we didn't overdo it and interspersed it with other things too. Hampshire and the New Forest were perfect for this. A beautiful part of the country. In fact A went back and immediately watched a film version of Emma while finishing the book, and wants to buy a copy of Lost in Austen.
I really enjoyed it. I thought the balance of stuff to do worked very well, the discussions went better than I could have hoped, and I loved the whole week. I also enjoyed putting the whole thing together.
I am currently researching our holiday for next year.