LA Times article
Posted by ChristyR on June 25, 1998 at 21:29:06:
In response to Sandy Lerner and Chawton House, written by Carl Goss on May 03, 1998 at 17:25:43
] There was something the other day on the same subject in the Los Angeles Times, but I missed it. Anybody know anything further?
The LA Times ran an article about Lerner's purchasing Chawton on March 1, 1998 in the Sunday LA Times Magazine. Since I have a subscription to their archive service, and usually very little to contribute to this site, I purchased a copy of the article, excerpts of which I've included below. If anyone would like a free copy of the complete article, e-mail me at Kangaroos2@aol.com and I'll be happy to send it to you.
Sunday, March 1, 1998
Section: Los Angeles Times Magazine
Yes, Sandy Lerner Posed Nude on a Horse. But Her Cosmetics Company Is Hot Stuff, and She's Got Enough Money to Buy Jane Austen's Ancestral Home in England. If You Don't Like It, Get a Life.;
By: RENEE TAWA
Renee Tawa is a Times staff writer
Prologue -- "In polite society, you cut off your crusts."--Overheard at the Jane Austen Society's annual meeting.
The Janeites speak of her as a concept, a rather puzzling concept. "Oh, Mrs. Lerrr-nah," they muse. Otherwise, though her absence is notable, here, at Jane Austen's ancestral home, no one notes it.
Really, what they want is to be left alone with their tea and pre-buttered scones and tiny cucumber sandwiches, and to hurry off to a picnic spot under the beech trees on the wide lawn of Chawton House. Once a year, the grounds of the estate in the South of England turn into a Buckingham Palace for keepers of the flame, the place where Janeites gather for the spectacle, the tradition, the notion that all is right with the British Empire, that all is right with Jane Austen. They have come because Austen wrote or rewrote her six novels in a cottage on the Chawton estate, owned by the same family since 1578.
Every July for 40 years, Jane Austen Society members have parked their Volvos and Saabs along the skinny lane outside the 51-room mansion with its climbing-ivy Tudor brick. Under a billowing white tent pitched on the lawn, the dames and sirs, ladies and lords gather alongside a handful of 60ish-plus men in snug suit jackets and wide ties, and hundreds of white-haired women in straw hats with big bows and ankle-baring floral print dresses. In a land of savoir-faire, the only bit of grumbling is over the sandwich triangles with inexplicably attached crusts.
Only when a Janeite must ponder the future of Chawton House is the comforting clink of teacups on saucers jarred in a blink of low-grade anxiety. "It's just the sort of thing an American would do, isn't it?" "What if she goes off on a tangent and wants to buy an estate in Texas or something?" "People just don't know much about her."
Lerner bought the Heap, her description, in 1994, and the Janeites have not been the same since.
-- A little Jane Austen humor for you: At Chawton House, the society's chairman reports on an Austen Web site, which includes the author's "Punishment List." On the list, he notes, is "a day's ramble with Mr. Collins." The crowd roars.
Chawton is an hour's train ride southwest of London in Hampshire County, where ancient hedgerows hide sunken lanes crossed by foxes and pheasants. The thatched-roof cottages and half-timbered houses have names like Five Daggers and Rotherfield Park. About 400 people live in the village, which has no street lights or stoplights. Residents include an eye surgeon, a retired police chief and the ex-commander of British forces in Gibraltar. Chawton's graveyard is full of families--including Jane Austen's--going back hundreds of years. Chawton House, once 5,000 acres strong, used to own the entire village.
Rose-dappled Chawton has clinched the South of England gardening competition nine years running. The locals celebrate with a pint or two at the village pub, perhaps the only bar in the world with a portrait of Jane Austen over the fireplace. Across from the pub is the brick cottage where the unmarried Austen lived for eight years until her death in 1817 at 41; it's now a private museum. Austen used to walk to Chawton House, five minutes away, and read stories to her nieces and nephews.
Since 1995, four of Austen's novels have been adapted for TV or films, including the blockbuster "Pride and Prejudice." The deluge began. Movie fans arrived clutching a paperback "Sense and Sensibility," with Emma Thompson on the cover, asking if Austen might sign their book. Around town T-shirts popped up: "Jane Who?" Crowds at the cottage more than doubled to 57,000 a year. Curators called in structural engineers to see if the 17th century building could bear the load. Hampshire County set up a hotline for tourists, with a recorded voice saying, "Hello, this is Jane Austen . . . "
Although Austen-mania began after Lerner bought the Chawton estate, which includes 275 acres of farmland, the besotted fueled suspicion. Who knew, the society muttered, if Lerner was truly one of the faithful or just an Austen-tatious fan roused by temporary passions? The British press speculated that she would turn the grounds into a Disney-esque theme park or lesbian commune and reported that she talked daily with the spirit of Benjamin Disraeli (she doesn't, but she used to have his picture on her wall). The Guardian sneered that she was "a wispy young thing with luxurious hair . . . nymphish in the best kind of way."
It was the sort of reaction that might have erupted, say, if Johnny Rotten had bought Monticello.
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