JASNA in Portland OR, Part Two

Victoria here with a short post on the break-out session I co-presented on Friday, October 29, 2010, at the JASNA AGM in Portland, OR. Kim Wilson, author of Tea with Jane Austen and In the Garden with Jane Austen, (right) and I spoke on “About Those Abbeys: In fact, literature and landscape.”
Starting with a brief history of monasticism in England and the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, we then focussed on what happend to the former abbey buildings and why they were considered so spooky — and/or picturesque.

When the abbeys and priories were closed, their land (about one-fourth of all of the nation’s arable land — the REAL reason Henry seized them) was sold and most of the buildings adapted for other uses or semi-destroyed. At right, Lacock Abbey, converted into a stately home and now run by the National Trust.

Ruined abbeys, castles and wild landscapes appealed to the writers of gothic fiction, so popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Mrs. Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho is the novel Jane Austen parodied in Northanger Abbey.  Terrible secrets are hidden in the ruins, dangerous forces threaten the innocent heroine, but all comes to a happy ending when she is rescued by a worthy hero.  Such stories were all the rage in JA’s day and many were set among the imagined clanking chains, ghostly moans and dark passages of ruined abbeys.

Stoneleigh Abbey, an estate inherited by Jane Austen’s relatives, was built on the property of an ancient abbey, and landscaped in the early 19th century by Humphrey Repton. Jane Austen visited here and mentions Repton’s schemes for landscapes in her novels.

 Stoneleigh is open to the public today and part of the tea shop is located in the old abbey undercroft.

We know that Jane Austen visited Netley Abbey in Hampshire while she was living in Southampton.  It was a popular venue for picnics and walks, as were so many of the abbey ruins spread over the entire British Isles. One of the most famous, below, is Tintern Abbey, maybe best known from the paintings of Turner.
More reports from Portland coming soon.

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