Not long before her death, Jane Austen described her writing as being done with a fine brush on a “little bit (not two inches wide) of ivory”.
Her early novels had been written upstairs in her father’s Hampshire rectory, and remained unpublished when the family moved to Bath in 1800, where writing became almost impossible for her.
In 1809, she returned to Hampshire, and settled in the cottage on the Chawton estate owned by her brother Edward, here she could devote herself to her work again. Jane shared Chawton Cottage with her mother – Mrs Austen, her daughters and their friend Martha Lloyd – who all helped with the work of the house and garden. But Jane was allowed private time.
But having no room of her own, she set up home near the little-used front door, and here “she wrote upon small sheets of paper which could easily be put away, or covered with a piece of blotting paper”. A nearby creaking swing door gave her warning when anyone was coming- which refused to have remedied.
This fragile 12-sided piece of walnut on a single tripod is where Jane drafted many of her ideas. From it she revised the manuscripts of Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion, and sent the revised manuscripts of both Pride & Prejudice, and Sense & Sensibility to be published in London (1811 and 1813).
Austen died in 1817, and following the death of her beloved sister Cassandra in 1845 the table was given to a manservant. Today, it is back in its old home, at the Jane Austen House Museum, where it speaks to every visitor of the modesty of genius.
Source: Clare Tomalin for the Guardian.